Ohio Education Update; Public Records Requests

    View Authors November 2004
    Responding to Public Records Requests

    Many of our public sector clients just recently received a public records request from a newspaper. The request seeks legal bills and billing records from 1998 to the present.

    It also appears to request breakdowns by matter, law firm or lawyer, and year, for that same time period. As to this, we note that you are under no obligation to provide breakdowns that do not exist.

    Although legal bills are generally subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act (RC § 149.43), there are portions of bills that should be redacted, and other portions that may be redacted. Personally identifiable student information in billing narratives should be withheld. Billing narratives may also contain attorney-client privileged information (including specific legal advice, information that would reveal trial strategy in ongoing litigation, etc.). Such information may be properly redacted. See State ex rel. Alley v. Couchois, 1995 Ohio App. LEXIS 4094, at *11-12 (Miami County 1995). The attorney-client privilege is yours to waive, however. Note that waiver through the release of one document may constitute waiver with respect to related documents. That said, in the interests of expediency and good will, you may well choose to release non-sensitive or stale information in billing narratives even though such information may be arguably subject to the privilege.

    We recommend that you be responsive to this request by not inquiring into motive and by contacting the person making the request as promptly as you are able. Please feel free to contact the lawyer with whom you work if you have any questions along the way.