COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Supreme Court gave Gov. Bob Taft a partial victory Thursday in his efforts to withhold documents connected to a corruption scandal, saying he has the right to keep some records secret but must do more to prove that those related to a state investment in rare coins should be sealed.
Ruling 5-2, the court for the first time gave the governor limited ability to keep certain policymaking records private, but rejected the notion that Taft has a sweeping executive privilege that makes all communication with his Cabinet directors exempt from public review.
Members of the public may have access when they can demonstrate a need that outweighs the governor's right to confidentiality, the court said.
The ruling came in a lawsuit by Democratic state Sen. Marc Dann, who had used the state public records act to try to review documents related to the unorthodox investments by the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Up to $13 million is missing from the rare-coin investments handled by a prolific GOP donor, sparking a scandal that has engulfed state politics.
Taft, a Republican, said he had the right to shield the documents but released some anyway because of public interest in the bureau. His office did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
The court did not rule on Dann's specific records request, instead ordering that Taft produce more evidence within 15 days that his records in the case fall under the qualified executive privilege it described.
Sharply dissenting, Justice Paul Pfeifer noted that Ohio has gone without executive privilege for its governor for 200 years.
"Why now does the governor come before this court claiming a heretofore unrecognized privilege? Are we in the midst of a crisis of state? No, the governor is in the midst of a crisis of politics," wrote Pfeifer, a Republican.
The manager of the state's coin investment, Tom Noe, has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft and money laundering.
Taft was fined last year after pleading no contest to ethics violations for failing to report golf games and other gifts — including some from Noe — that came to light in the investment scandal.
Democrats are pointing to the scandal as they campaign to regain control of the GOP-run state government in November.