The Ohio Attorney General’s Office provides a free program to help public records requesters and local governments resolve disputes through mediated discussion, education, and cooperation. The Mediation Program is a voluntary and confidential process in which a mediator who is well-versed in Ohio’s public records laws helps the disputing parties through a process to identify the parties’ issues and interests, with the goal of finding a mutually acceptable solution.
Who Can Ask For Mediation Services?
Any person who has requested public records from a local public office, or a local public office that has received a public records request, may apply for mediation, so long as the requester has not yet filed a lawsuit. Examples of disputes that may be mediated include those where:
a requester believes that a local public office has improperly denied a request for records
a requester believes a local public office is taking more than a reasonable amount of time to respond to a records request
a local public office believes that a requester has made an ambiguous or overly broad request and is having difficulty negotiating a properly specific revised request
How Do I Request Mediation?
Either party may request mediation by contacting the Attorney General’s Public Records Unit by phone, or using the online intake form, which may be submitted online, by mail, or by fax. The Public Records Unit will notify the other party in the dispute that mediation has been requested and ask if that party would be willing to participate. If both parties consent to mediation and the Attorney General’s Office determines that mediation would be appropriate, the parties will be contacted to arrange the time and date of the mediation. Most mediation sessions will take place by telephone.
What Else Can I Learn About Mediation and Public Records Law?
The mediation process is governed by the Uniform Mediation Act (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2710). Ohio Public Records Law is explained, including examples from Ohio case law, in the Attorney General’s Sunshine Laws Manual. Links to the Uniform Mediation Act and the Sunshine Laws Manual are provided in the upper right hand corner of this page.
Who Will Serve As Our Mediator?
A member of the Attorney General’s Public Records Unit, who is also professionally trained as a mediator, will be assigned to work with you. The mediator will help the parties explore their interests and concerns, and may point the parties to issues that they should consider, but will not provide legal advice to either party or make any “decision” in the case. If the parties reach an agreeable solution to the dispute, the mediator can help them draft a written settlement agreement.
Why Mediate Before Filing A Lawsuit?
Mediation sessions are private and are not open to the public. All discussions that take place during the mediation are confidential.
Through involvement of both parties, individuals are able to understand the other side’s point of view.
Mediation allows parties to reach creative resolutions as opposed to solutions imposed by a third-party decision maker.
Mediation offers a free alternative to a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.
The mediation process is designed to move at a quicker pace than a lawsuit, permitting much faster resolution of a public records dispute.
What are the Benefits of Mediation to the Records Requester?
Under the Ohio Public Records Act, a records requester who has not received public records in response to a proper public records request within a reasonable period of time has only one way to resolve the dispute: to file a lawsuit in court. For many records requesters, filing a lawsuit against a public office can be expensive and intimidating. However, the Attorney General’s mediation program now offers an alternative to filing suit. With the mediation program, a records requester may choose to attempt to resolve the records dispute with the public office through the guidance of the Attorney General’s Office. Importantly, the Attorney General’s mediation program is free and takes less time to resolve than a lawsuit.
What are the Benefits of Mediation to the Public Office?
Public offices also stand to benefit from the Attorney General’s mediation program, not only because it helps them avoid potential litigation fees and moves more quickly than a lawsuit, but also because mediation can help them resolve ongoing disputes with persistent requesters. By communicating with a requester through a controlled conversation facilitated by the Attorney General’s Office, a public office can come to understand what a records requester is actually seeking and create a plan for moving forward with that requester.
Mediation is Intended to Benefit Both Parties
Additionally, while the Attorney General’s Office cannot give advice to either party participating in the mediation, the mediator can remind parties of the law and how courts have interpreted it, and “reality check” with each party as to what is and is not likely to succeed in court. This “reality check” can often help both the public office and the records requester understand whether one, the other, or both need to alter their approach to conform with the law and resolve the dispute.
To request mediation, please complete and submit the online intake form located at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/PublicRecordsMediationIntakeForm, or contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Public Records Unit at 1-888-958-5088, or fax your intake form to 614-728-7592. If you choose to mail the intake form to our office, please send it to:
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office
c/o Kristen Montgomery
30 East Broad St., 16th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215.
For more information on Ohio’s public records laws, the Ohio Attorney General’s Sunshine Laws Manual is located at: www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Yellowbook