Do As I Say, Not As I Do
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the Pike County Coroner, David Kessler, has completed the autopsy reports on brutal slayings in Pike County Ohio. And, contrary to Ohio Law, he is refusing to produce copies. He is relying on Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for support on this illegal action.
It appears that Kessler is citing a 1984 Ohio Supreme Court case – State ex rel Dayton Newspapers v. Rauch – where the Court ruled that autopsy reports are exempt from the Ohio Public Records Act. But in legislation adopted after that 1984 decision, the Ohio Legislature made it clear the Rauch case is no longer controlling. Revised Code 313.10 provides:
Except as otherwise provided in this section, the records of the coroner who has jurisdiction over the case, including, but not limited to, the detailed descriptions of the observations written during the progress of an autopsy and the conclusions drawn from those observations filed in the office of the coroner under division (A) of section 313.13 of the Revised Code, made personally by the coroner or by anyone acting under the coroner’s direction or supervision, are public records. (emphasis added)
This statute begs the question — what part of “ARE PUBLIC RECORDS” do these guys not understand?
The same statute then specifically lists those records that are not public record:
2) Except as otherwise provided in division (D) or (E) of this section, the following records in a coroner’s office are not public records:
(a) Preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings made by the coroner or by anyone acting under the coroner’s direction or supervision;
(b) Photographs of a decedent made by the coroner or by anyone acting under the coroner’s direction or supervision;
(c) Suicide notes;
(d) Medical and psychiatric records provided to the coroner, a deputy coroner, or a representative of the coroner or a deputy coroner under section 313.091 of the Revised Code;
(e) Records of a deceased individual that are confidential law enforcement investigatory records as defined in section 149.43 of the Revised Code;
(f) Laboratory reports generated from the analysis of physical evidence by the coroner’s laboratory that is discoverable under Criminal Rule 16.
This section begs another question – if the autopsy is exempt in its entirety, why provide specific carve outs, especially for the “preliminary autopsy”? If the autopsy is exempt, then by definition the preliminary autopsy is exempt. Under the interpretation invented by the Coroner and the AG, the statute is utterly meaningless.
And even with those excepted records, the statute provides as follows:
(D) A journalist may submit to the coroner a written request to view preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, suicide notes, or photographs of the decedent made by the coroner or by anyone acting under the coroner’s discretion or supervision. The request shall include the journalist’s name and title and the name and address of the journalist’s employer and state that the granting of the request would be in the best interest of the public. If a journalist submits a written request to the coroner to view the records described in this division, the coroner shall grant the journalist’s request. The journalist shall not copy the preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, suicide notes, or photographs of the decedent.
But, and this probably comes as no surprise at this point, the coroner won’t let any journalists see the information which the Ohio Revised Code absolutely requires them to provide for inspection.
We hear our elected officials talk a lot about respect for the rule of law. It would probably sound more sincere if they showed a little respect for it themselves.