Cases now in judges’ hands

At stake: public’s right to know how opioid settlement funds are spent

Harm Reduction Ohio (HRO) filed the final legal brief today in its lawsuit against the OneOhio opioid settlement board for refusing to comply with Ohio public records and open meetings law.

The public records case is in the Ohio Supreme Court. The open meetings case is in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

The cases involve the same key issues. However, the Ohio Public Records Act and the Ohio Open Meetings Act are separate laws, with slightly different standards and different rules about where lawsuits are heard.

This article summarizes both legal cases and provides access to the documents filed by both sides. The most recent filings in the Ohio Supreme Court are provided below.

Overview: Ohio has so far secured $1 billion from the OneOhio opioid settlement. The money will be paid over 18 years. The state of Ohio and local governments agreed to divide the $1 billion this way:

  • 15% to state government.
  • 30% to local government.
  • 55% to a government-created foundation.

The OneOhio Recovery Foundation was established to receive the 55% foundation share. The foundation has not yet applied for or received 501(c)(3) non-profit status from the IRS, but its plan to do so is at the heart of its claim it can operate in secret, similar to the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation.

County Commissioner Whittington, executive director of OneOhio foundation

The OneOhio foundation is controlled by 19 regional governmental boards. The foundation’s entire 29-member board of directors is appointed by government. Only four of the 29 board members are private individuals. The board’s paid executive director is also a paid elected official, Ashtabula County Commissioner Kathryn Whittington.

Harm Reduction Ohio’s lawsuits were filed August 8, 2022, against the OneOhio Recovery Foundation. HRO argues that the foundation meets the four-part test to be considered a “functional equivalent” of a governmental body and is required to follow open meetings and public records laws.

In addition, Harm Reduction Ohio cites Section 12 of the settlement agreement that requires the foundation to follow open meetings and public records laws as if it were a public body. OneOhio concedes this is what the agreement says but argues that Harm Reduction Ohio doesn’t have legal standing to make the foundation do what it’s supposed to do.

OneOhio’s legal argument is that it is a private foundation and can reveal to the public only what it wants to reveal, similar to the $3.6 billion Columbus Foundation and the $2.5 billion Cleveland Foundation.

OneOhio’s legal argument to the Ohio Supreme Court: “A private nonprofit corporation formed to distribute proceeds from the settlement of litigation against pharmaceutical supply chain participants is not a ‘pubic office’ within the meaning of the Public Records Act.”

OneOhio opioid settlement agreement, signed by governor and Attorney General, requires following open meetings and public records law.


Open Meetings Case: The open meetings case had an oral hearing before Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Serrott on October 27, 2022. A decision is pending.

The legal filings in the open meetings case can be found here. If the link doesn’t work, go to the Franklin County Clerk of Courts case search here and type “harm reduction” into the field that says “Last Name.”

Public Records Case: The public records case has been argued in written legal briefs presented to the Ohio Supreme Court. The court can decide the case based on the briefs submitted or ask for oral arguments in the case. If requested, oral arguments would occur later in 2023.

Harm Reduction Ohio submitted the final legal brief in the case today. What happens next and when is up to the justices on the Ohio Supreme Court.

All legal filings in the public records case can be found here on the Ohio Supreme Court web site.

Below are the legal filings requested on November 9, 2022, by the Ohio Supreme Court:

  • Harm Reduction Ohio’s brief on the merits of its case against OneOhio.
  • OneOhio’s brief on the legal merits its defense against Harm Reduction Ohio’s suit.
  • Harm Reduction Ohio’s response to OneOhio’s merit brief.

Also provided below is an 82-page filing of evidence in the case. The evidence is sometimes referred to by number in the legal briefs listed above.

For example, Harm Reduction Ohio argued that one reason that OneOhio is covered by Ohio’s public records law is that it operates entirely on government money. No settlement money has arrived yet, so OneOhio has functioned entirely on $1 million provided to it by the Ohio Attorney General. As evidence, HRO submitted the $1 million check the Attorney General wrote to OneOhio.

A copy of the check was obtained from a public records request made to the Office of the Attorney General. The document is an example of why public records law is crucial to understanding how money is spent and who receives it.

OneOhio claims it has no obligation to reveal anything about how it spends $500 million+ in opioid settlement funds or who gets the cash. This case is profoundly important for the honest, transparent spending of government money.

The legal briefs below can help you decide the merits of Harm Reduction Ohio’s claim that OneOhio must release documents to the public and OneOhio’s argument that it can operate in secrecy.

Legal Documents

Ohio Supreme Court chambers

Below is Harm Reduction Ohio’s Merit Brief on why OneOhio should be required to follow Ohio’s public records law. It was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on December 8, 2022.

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Below is OneOhio’s Merit Brief on why it should be exempt from Ohio’s public records law. It was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on December 8, 2022.

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Below is Harm Reduction Ohio’s brief replying to OneOhio’s Merit Brief (provided above). HRO’s Reply Brief was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on January 4, 2023.

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Below is Harm Reduction Ohio’s evidence submission in the case. The evidence is sometimes referenced in the legal briefs filed by Harm Reduction Ohio and OneOhio.

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