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Cleveland receives complaints on slow public records processing

Posted at 10:43 PM, Oct 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 15:41:18-04

A Northeast Ohio attorney, and a local private investigator, have filed complaints about slow responses by the City of Cleveland when it comes to obtaining critical public records for key court cases.

Private investigator Rob Slattery told News 5 he's filed five formal complaints with the Ohio Court of Claims, after he said the city made him wait for 277 days for important public records that were critical to Northeast Ohio families in homicide investigations.

By law, government entities are to provide public records in a "timely manner," but Slattery said the city of Cleveland is violating those guidelines.

On Oct. 19, the Ohio Court of Claims ruled Cleveland violated state law when it failed to provide records to Slattery for 277 days, but in the ruling the city failed to explain what caused the delay.

"The city of Cleveland, on a regular basis, just obstructs our ability to do our jobs," Slattery said.

"Those records, it could have been pulled up in two minutes, we waited 277 days. In that time I missed two pre-trials in that homicide case."

Northeast Ohio Civil Rights Attorney David Malik told News 5, he and other attorneys have been dealing Cleveland public records delays for years.

Malik said the delays have jeopardized defendants and families in a wide variety of critical court cases.

He said the standard of providing public records in "a timely manner" needs to be made more specific to ensure transparency in government.

Malik believes the entire system needs to be changed. 

"It's a chronic problem, the model needs to be changed," Malik said.

"Let a private company get public records when requests come in. Don't let the very entity you're trying to scrutinize, the government, fulfill that request."

News 5 contacted the city about this case, but they said they could not comment because the case is still ongoing.

The city pointed to its relatively new online system to file public records requests, but Slattery said the new web portal isn't helping with slow public records response time.

"It does nothing for getting the records," Slattery said.

"That was their solution, we streamlined this, you can submit it online now. Well, I could mail them something everyday, it doesn't mean I'm going to get a response."

"The Mayor is on the news all the time talking about the wonderful things he's doing, he's reaching out to the community."

"I think he needs to walk down is hall and walk into this department, and clean house."