Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Local Governments Fear Open Meeting ‘Bounty Hunters’

Image is of a white building with black shutters, with a black railing and am American flag by the front door

Court considers if open meeting “bounty hunters” can seeks fines from local governments.

Image is of a white building with black shutters, with a black railing and am American flag by the front door

Court considers if open meeting “bounty hunters” can seeks fines from local governments.

By reviewing the minutes of local government meetings, a Portage County man discovers violations of Ohio’s Open Meeting Act. He wants a $500 fine for each infraction. Local governments are fighting his attempts, asserting the law wasn’t created to reward open meeting “bounty hunters.”

Brian Ames maintains he is owed thousands of dollars for uncovering repeat violations. The Ohio attorney general is on his side. In Ames’ lawsuit against the Rootstown Township Board of Trustees, the attorney general submitted an amicus curiae brief, stating the Open Meetings Act (OMA) encourages citizens to sue to stop repeat violators because those bodies are “most in need of being caught and stopped.”

The state’s leading organizations representing local governments, including the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Municipal League, have joined the Rootstown trustees, disputing the notion that per-meeting fines can be “stacked.” During oral arguments next week the Supreme Court of Ohio will consider whether multiple open meeting violations can be addressed with one injunction to stop noncompliance and a single $500 fine.

Government Meeting Procedures Questioned
Ames’ brief states he became “concerned with the considerable financial risks” faced by Portage County taxpayers after he learned that in Putnam County, on the other side of the state, the County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay $6,500 in civil forfeiture, $497,000 in attorney fees, and $23,000 in court costs to the individuals who sued them for open meetings violations. In 2017, Ames filed a lawsuit against the Rootstown Township Board of Trustees, alleging the trustees violated the open meetings law R.C. 121.22, 16 times between 2015 and 2016. He claimed the minutes reflected that the board went into executive session and met in private without appropriately moving into the private session through a roll-call vote. He cited the meeting minutes as evidence they didn’t follow the proper procedure.

The Portage County Common Pleas Court ruled in favor of the township, and Ames appealed to the Eleventh District. The Eleventh District agreed with Ames and found the board violated the law 14 times. The trial court was directed to impose an injunction on the township to prevent future violations.

At the trial court, Ames sought to collect $7,000 – $500 for each meeting violation and $1,584 in attorney fees. The trial court issued a single $500 fine and granted Ames $1,000 in attorney fees. The award was affirmed by the Eleventh District and Ames appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which agreed to hear the case.

Oral Argument Details
The Supreme Court will consider Ames v. Rootstown Township on March 9 along with three other cases during a two-day session. On March 8, the Court will consider three other appeals. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live, and archived, on The Ohio Channel.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, March 8
Death Penalty

In State v. Drain, a person serving a 38-years-to-life sentence in a Warren County prison residential treatment unit strangled and beat another prisoner to death with a fan motor. Drain is transgender. The brief in the automatic appeal notes that mitigating factors were submitted to the trial court under seal because the defendant didn’t want them presented in her defense. Drain was sentenced to death for the murder and is appealing the sentence. The brief argues the Supreme Court can independently consider that sealed evidence. The prosecutor rejects that view. Among the other legal issues raised are the imposition of the death penalty for a crime committed while incarcerated and the role of the COVID-19 pandemic on constitutional rights.

Criminal Appeal
In 2016, an Adams County man was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. While awaiting trial in jail, he was charged and convicted of assault. In State v. Blanton, the man argues that it is practically impossible to claim ineffective assistance of trial counsel in a direct appeal, which typically must be filed 30 days after a trial court verdict. He seeks a bright-line rule allowing criminal defendants to raise the ineffective assistance claim during postconviction relief, which would take place sometime after the direct appeal deadline has passed.

Lien Precedence
A Cuyahoga County man promised to use his share of stock in the family business as collateral to ensure he paid $4 million in spousal support to his ex-wife starting in 2014. His son, who inherited the other half of the business, learned his father had been taking company money and sued. The son was awarded $2.8 million, which was settled when the father gave his son his share the business. Before the son received the stock, the mother filed a Uniform Commercial Code lien with the secretary of state noting that $450,000 of the spousal support was secured by the stock. After the husband stopped paying support, the domestic court issued a lien securing all the stock now in the son’s hand as collateral. In Michael v. Miller, the son argues the only debt secured by the company stock is $450,000, not millions.

Wednesday, March 9
Doctor Credentialling

A 26-year-old woman died after three cardiac procedures were performed to prevent abnormal heart rhythms. Her father sued the doctor and the Toledo hospital where his daughter had two of the procedures. The father and the doctor settled the medical negligence part of the lawsuit after a trial began. In Walling v. Brenya, the hospital maintains that the claim alleging that the hospital was negligent for granting privileges to the doctor must be dismissed because the doctor wasn’t found negligent. The father asserts that Court precedent permits the claim against the hospital to proceed.

Psychiatric Confinement
An Alliance man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2011 murder of his girlfriend is confined to a Northfield psychiatric facility. In 2019, the facility’s chief clinical officer requested fewer restrictions on the man’s confinement, allowing him to go outside the facility with supervision. The Stark County Common Pleas Court denied the request. In State v. Stutler, the man argues the prosecutor ignored his treatment team’s recommendation supporting the lessened restrictions without proving he is an unreasonable danger to the public. The prosecutor maintains that the court determines whether to approve a change in restrictions.

False Statements
A Hamilton County woman filed a civil case to take a man’s house through a legal process called adverse possession. She claimed the owner had abandoned the house, she was the legal owner, and she had entered the house. The lawsuit was dismissed. However, based on her lawsuit’s statements, she was charged with crimes and found guilty of tampering with records. In State v. Brown, the prosecutor argues there is no immunity from criminal prosecution when someone knowingly makes false statements in a civil court proceeding. The woman counters that the state didn’t prove that she knew she could be subject to criminal charges for the claims she made in her lawsuit if found not to be true.