Otterbein U. Student Media Wins Lawsuit: Campus Police Records Must Be Made Public

Otterbein University graduate and former Otterbein360 news editor Anna Schiffbauer is having a good day. This morning, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in her favor on a longstanding lawsuit spurred by her request for access to Otterbein’s police reports.

For those just tuning in to this roughly four-year-old fight, it centered on a single question: Does a private university + “a public entity” = open records?

More specifically, during her tenure at Otterbein360, Schiffbauer simply wanted to see some police reports — and let other interested people see them too. Schiffbauer and her supporters felt the school should not be legally allowed to withhold the records because — unlike many private colleges and universities — it boasts a certified police force.

As she told The Columbus Dispatch last year, “It’s an issue of transparency for us. They are a public entity associated with a private university. Their records should be public.”

The school disagreed. A dialogue and then legal wrangling ensued. Today, it (hopefully) has concluded.

Court News Ohio: “In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ordered the Otterbein University police chief to produce the criminal records requested by a news editor at a student-run website. The court determined the university’s police department was established by statute to enforce criminal laws and that function makes the department a public office under the state’s Public Records Act.”

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Anna Schiffbauer is a 2014 graduate of Otterbein University and former news editor of Otterbein360.

During this edition of College Media Podcast, Schiffbauer discussed the origins and rationale behind the lawsuit and her reaction to today’s ruling.

I asked her if she was comfortable with her legacy being a student press and media transparency fighter and advocate. Her response, after a laugh:

“If people remember me as that, I will proudly and gladly have that be what they take away. So yes, I embrace that. If Otterbein360 and this case have helped other students and other schools and other universities kind of figure out ‘Hey, maybe this is something we can talk about with our staff and our administration,’ then that’s even better.”

Current Otterbein360 editor-in-chief Sean Feverston also tells me in response to today’s court decision: “The Ohio Supreme Court ruling is a clear victory for student media across the state, but more importantly for open records laws in Ohio. We hope that this decision can stand as a model for other campuses around the country. We would like to thank Jack Greiner, attorney for Anna Schiffbauer, the Society for Professional Journalism and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government for their steadfast support through out the process. At Otterbein360 we believe that transparency is the gateway to trust and we look forward to increased cooperation with the university as we endeavor to bring our campus community the news.”


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