COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – An Ohio judge improperly sealed records related to the prosecution of a college student who authored an offensive flier about rape posted in a university bathroom, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a lawsuit brought by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The flier describing the “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” was found in 2012 in a coed dorm bathroom at Miami University in southwest Ohio.
After the student pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, he immediately asked to seal the case, according to Thursday’s ruling.
Butler County Judge Robert Lyons approved the request but cited the wrong state law, one that deals with sealing cases when there’s not a conviction, the ruling said.
Nevertheless, Lyons ordered the record sealed, though he later acknowledged the wrong law was cited.
After the paper sued, the judge unsealed the record and allowed the student to withdraw his guilty plea, after which the state dropped the case. The judge resealed the case using the original legal citation.
The judge argued that, when it comes to sealing cases, minor misdemeanors don’t require the same treatment as misdemeanors, such as a one-year waiting period before a defendant who’s been convicted can ask that a case be sealed, Thursday’s decision said.
The law on sealing records doesn’t draw a distinction between misdemeanors, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote for the five-judge majority.
A minor misdemeanor is still a misdemeanor, “just as a Labrador retriever, although different from other dogs, is still a dog,” Lanzinger wrote.
The decision means the case against the student is now a public record.
Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Paul Pfeifer dissented, with O’Donnell calling the judge’s actions a “clerical mistake” that didn’t affect the validity of the decision to seal the records.
A message was left with the Butler County prosecutor’s office, which represented the judge. A Miami University spokeswoman said the student has not been enrolled since October 2012.
The justices made the correct decision, said Cincinnati attorney John Greiner, representing the Enquirer.
“Sealing a public record is a big deal, and it cannot be done cavalierly, as Judge Lyons was doing,” he said Thursday. “Hopefully, this will send a message that our courts are not private entities and the public has a right to know what’s going on in the courts.”
The court rejected related arguments by the paper that Lyons had also improperly sealed other misdemeanor convictions over the years. The court found that the paper hadn’t presented enough evidence that the records were sealed improperly.
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