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State Ex Rel. Robert Watson v. [Gary C. Mohr]

October 20, 2011

STATE EX REL. ROBERT WATSON, RELATOR,
v.
[GARY C. MOHR], DIRECTOR OF THE OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION AND CORRECTION ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tyack, J.

Cite as State ex rel. Watson v. [Mohr, ]

(REGULAR CALENDAR)

DECISION

IN MANDAMUS

ON OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE'S DECISION

{¶1} Robert Watson has filed this action in mandamus seeking a writ to compel various persons with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC") to provide him copies of public and non-public records related to parole hearings and his own hearings in particular.

{¶2} In accord with Loc.R. 12, the case was referred to a magistrate to conduct appropriate proceedings. Evidentiary material was submitted and briefs were filed. The magistrate then issued a magistrate's decision, followed by a second magistrate's decision "nunc pro tunc, which is appended hereto." The decision recommended that we not grant a writ or award damages.

{¶3} Watson filed objections to the magistrate's decision. Counsel for ODRC filed a memorandum in response. The case is now before the court for a full, independent review.

{¶4} Watson is an inmate recently housed at Mansfield Correctional Institution. After he was denied parole, he sought public and non-public records from ODRC, allegedly so he could ask for reconsideration of the parole decision and/or so he could file an application for clemency with the governor of Ohio. The evidentiary material sought by Watson is summarized in the magistrate's decision.

{¶5} Watson disagrees with two sets of factual findings in the magistrate's decision. First, he asserts that he submitted payment for the records he seeks. He supports this assertion with an affidavit claiming payment and a copy of a "Response to Kite" which includes reference to a cash slip received by S. Gall with ODRC. The response does not say how much was paid or for what purpose. Watson's affidavit states that the payment was for the cost of some of the records he seeks. We will consider below what impact the apparent payment has on the merits of this case.

{¶6} The second factual objection regards whether or not Watson complained about the loss of a magazine. This issue has no bearing on the merits of this case. The second objection, titled "Error No. 2," is overruled.

{¶7} The third objection, titled "Error No. 3" states:

The magistrate erred by not separately addressing both of relator's claims.

{¶8} We will independently assess the merits of both of Watson's claims, so the form of the magistrate's decision is irrelevant to the key issues.

{¶9} The third objection is overruled.

{¶10} The fourth objection, titled "Error No. 4" states:

The magistrate erred by not allowing relator to obtain discovery.

{¶11} A panel of this court has already addressed the merits of this objection and resolved it against Watson. We are bound to follow that ruling.

{¶12} The fourth objection is overruled.

{¶13} The fifth objection, titled "Error No. 5" reads:

The magistrate erred by finding that only a licensed attorney at law may obtain non-public records.

(Emphasis sic.)

{¶14} Ohio Adm.Code 5120:1-1-36 is set forth in the conclusions of law section of the magistrate's decision. The administrative code clearly limits who may receive nonpublic records. Watson cannot demand and receive them directly. The magistrate's decision correctly addresses this issue.

{¶15} The fifth objection is overruled.

{¶16} We must now address the effect of the payment of the $.95 sum for the cost of public records upon the outcome of this action in mandamus. We have already determined that Watson cannot receive the non-public records directly, so the issue is narrowed to his entitlement to public records following payment.

{¶17} Watson is apparently entitled to the conduct reports, rules infraction-based decisions, determinations, orders, minutes of the Ohio Adult Parole Authority and a copy or copies of master file cover information to the extent that the documents directly relate to him. We cannot know if the documents, which apparently were assembled for him to review, have been provided while this mandamus action has been pending.

{¶18} Based upon the record before us and the reality of the crowding of the penal system in Ohio, we cannot say that respondents failed to act promptly in response to Watson's requests for public records. We, therefore, are unwilling to assess statutory damages in this case. However, we grant a writ of mandamus to compel ODRC to provide the documents directly related to Watson as listed above, to the extent they exist and have not already been provided, if or when Watson has paid the $.95 for the copies.

{¶19} We, therefore, sustain the first objection. We adopt the remaining findings of fact and conclusions of law not dependent on the payment of $.95.

{¶20} We grant a writ of mandamus to the extent indicated above. The first objection is sustained; writ granted.

FRENCH and CONNOR, JJ., concur.

APPENDIX

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO

TENTH APPELLATE DISTRICT

State ex rel. Robert Watson, Relator, v. [Gary C. Mohr], Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction et al., Respondents.

No. 10AP-949

(REGULAR CALENDAR)

MAGISTRATE ' S DECISION NUNC ...


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