Saturday, October 27, 2007

Legislators' e-mails public, suit says

Lawmakers' private accounts at issue
Friday, October 26, 2007 3:38 AM
James Nash
While state Rep. Josh Mandel battles insurgents in Iraq, he's facing another determined adversary at home.

Jeffrey L. Glasgow, a retired Franklin County assistant prosecutor, is testing the limits of Ohio's public-records law by demanding that Mandel, R-Lyndhurst, turn over e-mail messages from his private account that pertain to state business.

Glasgow's case, now before the Ohio Supreme Court, is thought to be the first courtroom test of an emerging area of open-records laws: whether e-mail and text messages from a government employee's private accounts are public records if the messages have to do with official business.

Glasgow contends that Mandel and fellow Rep. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, have been less than forthcoming in their responses to his demand for records about the two representatives' quest to get Ohio pensions to withdraw their investments from companies that do business with Iran and Sudan.

"I just want to know who's talking to whom in making the law," Glasgow said. "That's the motivation. I just think secrecy in government is a bad idea."

Mandel, a Marine reservist, spearheaded the drive to force Ohio's five public pensions to divest more than $1 billion in holdings in companies with investments in Iran and Sudan. He and Jones argued that retired public employees shouldn't be subsidizing terrorism, even indirectly, by profiting from investments in countries with known ties to Islamic extremists.

Glasgow and other retired government employees protested that their retirement savings were being used as a bargaining chip in a foreign-policy debate.

Pension leaders initially resisted Mandel and Jones' move but ultimately capitulated. In June, they agreed to voluntarily divest at least half of their holdings in Iran- and Sudan-connected companies by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of full divestment.

Three months later, Mandel shipped off to Iraq for his second tour of duty.

For Glasgow, however, the battle continued -- it just changed venues.

Although Mandel and Jones turned over boxes of documents, Glasgow contends that they also withheld public records. Glasgow, who once handled public-records requests for various government agencies in Franklin County, asked the two representatives for e-mail and text messages from their private accounts that dealt with the divestment measure and other government business.

Mandel used his private account at least three times to discuss the measure with a Dispatch reporter in May and June. His office, however, provided none of those messages to Glasgow. The former prosecutor also said he has evidence that Mandel sent text messages during committee hearings on the bill; the representative's office furnished no text messages in response to Glasgow's request.

Attorney General Marc Dann has said that e-mail and text messages are public documents if they deal with government business, even if they come from private accounts. Dann has urged public officials not to use private e-mail and text accounts to conduct their official business.

However, Dann's office is representing Mandel and Jones in their responses to Glasgow's lawsuit. The attorney general's spokesman, Leo Jennings III, said he couldn't comment on whether the two state representatives have complied with Dann's directives.

"We have to represent them," Jennings said. "The legislature is our client."

Jones declined to comment. Mandel, who is expected to be in Iraq through late spring, can't receive phone calls or e-mail messages, said his legislative aide, Michael Lord. Mandel has asked the Supreme Court to delay hearing Glasgow's case until the lawmaker returns from Iraq.

"I don't have his computer," Lord said. "We don't have any access to his e-mails."

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