A Franklin County judge ordered the OneOhio opioid settlement board to start complying with the Ohio Open Meetings Act. The judge’s order enforces a March 9 open meetings ruling that the opioid settlement board was covered by open meetings law. The OneOhio had ignored the ruling. (See the judge’s temporary restraining order here or below.)
However, the judge declined to issue, as Harm Reduction Ohio had requested, an order to temporarily prevent OneOhio from spending opioid settlement funds and hiring a permanent Executive Director because of its open meetings violations. A full hearing on the issue is scheduled for July.
The OneOhio Recovery Foundation will receive 55% of Ohio’s $1 billion opioid settlement over 18 years. The other 45% goes directly to the the state and local governments.
OneOhio has held dozens of meetings since its inception in May 2022. None have complied with open meetings law. OneOhio has held at least six meetings since the judge ruled March 9 that it was covered by the Open Meetings Act.
Decisions made at meetings that violate open meetings law are automatically invalidated.
However, Franklin County Judge Mark Serrott said he did not want to immediately halt OneOhio’s effort to spend its first opioid settlement payment because of the alleged violations. OneOhio received a $58.3 million payment in March and hopes to start taking grant applications in June with the money being disbursed October 1.
Harm Reduction Ohio had asked the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the grant process, arguing that waiting until the July hearing would make the law’s invalidation requirement impossible to enforce without hurting grant applicants.
The same issue — whether open meetings law violations invalidate what was done in secret — will be heard fully at a preliminary injunction hearing, now scheduled for July 12 and July 14.
Serrott expressed concern, as OneOhio argued, that delaying OneOhio’s effort to spend money would harm opioid remediation efforts. Harm Reduction Ohio argued that OneOhio had little capacity to wisely and effectively quickly spend such a large amount.
In Open Meetings Act cases, enforcement is supposed to be automatic, not based on whether a public body thinks in did a good thing while violating the law. However, the judge can consider the “public interest” when a temporary restraining order is requested.
In court, OneOhio attorney Robert Zimmerman of Cleveland admitted that OneOhio had violated the Open Meetings Act. He said it was hard for OneOhio to comply with open meetings law, especially because OneOhio was a young organization. He promised OneOhio would comply in the future and start following the judge’s March 9 that it is covered by open meetings law.
Judge Serrott issued a temporary restraining order from the bench Tuesday ordering OneOhio to start complying with the law.
Harm Reduction Ohio attorney Jack Greiner of Cincinnati argued that the facts were clear that OneOhio had repeatedly violated the law. He asked the judge to follow the Open Meetings Act requirement that invalidates actions taken at meetings that violate open meetings law.
“I’m happy that OneOhio admitted it has repeatedly violated open meetings law and agreed to start complying with law,” said Dennis Cauchon, President of Harm Reduction Ohio. “I am disappointed that the judge let OneOhio continue its spending process, albeit temporarily, as if no violations had occurred.”
At the hearing Tuesday, lawyers for both sides made legal arguments, but no testimony or evidence presented. Testimony and evidence can be presented at the two-day preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for July 12 and 14.