Lakewood Taken to Court for Refusing to Release Hundreds of Public Records


  • Mayor Mike Summers, second from left, in City Council chambers.
The Lakewood Hospital debacle has evolved into two fronts: the first being the city's efforts to set up a "family wellness center" on the site and develop a few acres of now-vacant land, and the second being a civil appeals case that confronts local and state public records laws.

As for the latter, a court document filed yesterday paints a grim picture of Lakewood City Hall's public records responses. In Brian Essi v. City of Lakewood, resident Essi has taken to the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals to compel the city to turn over more than 250 requested public records related to the deal constructed by the Lakewood Hospital Association and the Cleveland Clinic — and later ratified by City Council and Lakewood voters. (Essi has been one of the most vocal critics of the Lakewood Hospital Association/Cleveland Clinic deal, often publishing detailed analyses and records via the Lakewood Observer's website. He has been a frequent guest at council meetings since mid-2015.)

Read the full motion below. The document includes all records requests initiated by Essi since March 2016, including email records, electronic calendar records, City Hall office access logs, City Hall Internet data logs, drafts of public documents, etc. — a tapestry of documents that would explain who knew what and when as the deal was being crafted.

As far as the timeline goes, a summary judgment is due in this appeal on May 1. Essi's attorneys argue that they need these records to dutifully depose the named defendant and the city's public records custodian, Law Director Kevin Butler.

Contained within the motion is a curious discussion of the amount in damages that may be assessed against a government entity that fails to deliver on public records requests. "Essi suspects that Lakewood is engaging in $1,000-versus-$267,000 statutory damage cost-benefit analysis based upon Lakewood's mistaken belief that its total exposure for Lakewood alleged and suspected misconduct is mere $1,000 in statutory damages for this one mandamus action filed by Essi, as opposed to $1,000 in statutory damages for each of the 267 separate public records requests filed by Essi." (5)

While the Ohio attorney general's Sunshine Law resource manual points out that that Ohio Revised Code "does not permit stacking of statutory damages based on what is essentially the same records request," it remains to be seen how the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals rules on damages if the writ of mandamus is granted. (52) If damages must be capped at $1,000 across the board, the cost-benefit analysis that Essi is suggesting becomes more clear. To wit: $1,000 in public dollars, one might argue, is an easier cost to bear than releasing a trove of government records to the very same public.

The city of Lakewood has previously requested that the court deny Essi's request.

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