Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments on release of Jefferson County Courthouse shooting video
COLUMBUS — An attorney for The Associated Press argued before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday that a county prosecutor did not provide “competent” evidence to prove that courthouse security camera footage of a judge being shot is a security record and should not be released to the public.
The attorney, Jack Greiner, argued that Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin’s three affidavits submitted to a special master at the Ohio Court of Claims amounted to nothing more than “hearsay,” as an appeals court referred to them, and do not prove her case.
“The special master wanted evidence and rationale to claim it was a security record,” Greiner argued.
The video shows Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. being shot outside a Steubenville courthouse in eastern Ohio in August 2017 by 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, and then Richmond being killed by a probation officer.
Richmond had a pending wrongful death lawsuit in front of Bruzzese at the time. The judge recovered and returned to the bench.
The day of the shooting, the AP asked for a copy of the surveillance video recorded by a camera positioned in front of the courthouse, but Hanlin denied that request, saying the video was a confidential law enforcement record and part of the courthouse’s infrastructure security system, among other arguments.
Hanlin throughout the case has maintained that releasing the footage would jeopardize the lives of judges and court personnel.
The Ohio Court of Claims in February 2019 sided with an appeal brought by the AP, saying the video doesn’t contain any information that could be used to protect a public office from “attack, interference or sabotage.”
Hanlin appealed to the 7th District Court of Appeals in Youngstown, which ruled in Jefferson County’s favor, saying the video is exempt under Ohio’s public record law because it would reveal courthouse security measures.
The appeals court said, in part, that the Court of Claims should have considered affidavits submitted by Hanlin, based on her personal knowledge of the situation, that the video met the security exemption under state law.
The appeals court acknowledged that the affidavits, which did not include any testimony from security experts, were based on hearsay. But the documents could be used to argue against releasing the video because the AP waived its right to object to the affidavits, the appeals court said.
The AP appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the appeals court ruling, if it stands, would make it easier for public agencies to deny requests in the future by providing such affidavits.
In its arguments to the Supreme Court, the AP’s attorney says Ohio case law is clear that the video is a public record, as the Ohio Court of Claims previously ruled, and should be released.
The recent shooting of two family members of a federal judge in New Jersey shows “there are bounties on the heads of judges and so many public officials,” Hanlin told the justices. She added that releasing the courthouse footage to the public could provide a “training tape for those want to kill or harm us.”
Some Ohio court justices appeared skeptical about Hanlin’s arguments that the tape is a security record.
“The prosecutor simply did not provide sufficient evidence to support” her argument, Greiner said.
Media advocacy groups and media companies supporting the AP in a court filing include the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, Ohio Association of Broadcasters, the Society of Professional Journalists, E.W. Scripps Co. and Gannett Co.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association filed a brief siding with Hanlin.
A decision by the Supreme Court isn’t expected for weeks.