COLUMBUS - A Democratic state senator yesterday urged the Ohio Supreme Court to examine the documents that Gov. Bob Taft wants to keep secret, saying failure to do so would strike a blow against citizens who file taxpayers' lawsuits to "halt illegal government activity or corruption involving misuse of public funds."
Attorneys for Marc Dann, a Youngstown-area state senator who is running for attorney general, wrote: "In some cases, the only way to know if there is a possible corrupting influence related to a transaction is to access the records reflecting the communications and contacts between private business or political interests and officials, like the governor, involved in such transactions."
In a 5-2 decision released April 13, the state Supreme Court ruled for the first time in Ohio history that Mr. Taft and future governors have a limited power to keep some office records secret from the public.
In June, 2005, Senator Dann submitted a public records request for weekly reports prepared by James Samuel, a former Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation official who was the governor's executive assistant for business and industry, and all of his predecessors in that post.
Mr. Taft released several weekly reports, but parts were blacked out and more than 200 were withheld, based on the governor's conclusion that they didn't contain information that related to the bureau.
Senator Dann has said more documents could shed additional light on why up to $13 million is unaccounted for in the state's rare-coin investment controlled by Tom Noe and why the state lost $215 million in a risky hedge fund managed by Mark D. Lay of MDL Capital Management, of Pittsburgh.
Mark Rickel, Mr. Taft's press secretary, said the governor's office provided Mr. Dann with all weekly reports about the bureau nine months ago.
"He has chosen to continue this lawsuit for his own political purposes,'' Mr. Rickel said.
In an affidavit filed April 28, Mr. Taft told the Supreme Court that the documents he wants to keep secret do not contain information about the bureau.
Yesterday was the deadline for Senator Dann to respond.
To get the documents, he has to show a "particularized need to review the communications to or from the governor" that outweighs the limited privilege the governor possesses, according to the Supreme Court's ruling.
The high court then would inspect the records and determine if they should be released.
Mr. Dann said Mr. Taft has tried to use executive privilege to shield documents from the public that clearly wouldn't fit within the court's ruling.
"We are absolutely certain that much of what he has claimed privilege over is not privileged," he said.
On Thursday, state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) introduced a bill to overturn the Supreme Court's decision.
His bill states that the governor "does not possess an absolute or qualified" executive privilege, but that the governor could shield some documents from the public if they are used in making decisions.
On May 1, the Society of Ohio Archivists approved a resolution opposing the Supreme Court's decision in Dann vs. Taft.
The group, founded in 1968, said the ruling "denies the public access to many significant records of Ohio's governor, limits Ohioans' right to know about the decisions and actions of their government, and will result in an incomplete historical record of the actions of Ohio's government."
Contact James Drew: