Court weighs penalties for multiple open meeting violations

March 10, 2022 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court is weighing whether violations of the state’s open meetings law should be punished by single or multiple $500 fines.

At issue before the court is a complaint by northeastern Ohio resident Brian Ames against Rootstown Township, found to have illegally gone into executive session eight times in 2016.

A judge issued an injunction ordering the township to discontinue the action and levied a $500 fine as part of the injunction. Ames unsuccessfully appealed, arguing that each violation, not the overall injunction, should incur a $500 fine.

Ames has the backing of Attorney General Dave Yost, who argues that someone successfully proving that an illegal meeting happened, “is entitled to one $500 award for every Open Meetings Act violation proved.”

A lawyer for the township says state law requires only one $500 fine per injunction, an argument supported by local government groups.

Allowing multiple $500 fines would inspire open meetings law “bounty hunters” to bring claims against public bodies on the backs of taxpayers, say attorneys for the local government.

The high court heard arguments from both sides Wednesday with no decision expected for months.