FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 16, 2023
Arn Pearson, Executive Director, email@example.com
David Armiak, Research Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Columbus, Ohio – The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed an emergency motion with the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday asking the Court to stop Attorney General Dave Yost’s office from further destroying its controversial communications with the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
A senior Yost lieutenant gave sworn testimony in a deposition that he is routinely destroying those communications, even though they are covered under the discovery order CMD won in 2021, now pending appeal in the state Supreme Court.
Requests to instruct AG staff to stop that practice were rejected by Yost’s office yesterday.
The emergency motion and supporting documents can be found here.
CMD’s motion asks the Court to order “Attorney General David Yost to instruct his staff to preserve and refrain from destruction of emails, text messages, and other documents, whether stored in personal devices and accounts or official ones, that may be responsive to the discovery requests at issue in this appeal.”
“No such order should be necessary as this obligation arose as soon as the requests were served, and measures to collect and preserve potentially responsive documents should have been taken automatically,” CMD’s motion said. “But attempts by Appellees’ counsel to confirm this with Appellant’s counsel have been unsuccessful.”
“It’s hard to put into words how frustrating it is, as an attorney, to see the office that is supposed to be enforcing the laws of Ohio decide that it is above the law,” said CMD’s lawyer, Jeffrey Vardaro at the Gittes Law Group. “Letting employees destroy records that a court has ordered to be turned over in a lawsuit is not something our justice system should tolerate from anyone, much less the elected official who puts his name on a ‘Sunshine Laws Manual’ every year.”
The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and its sister organization, the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), are cash-for-influence organizations that promote and coordinate actions by Republican attorneys general at the behest of its corporate members in the energy, pharmaceutical, telecom, financial, and other industries. RAGA frequently coordinates and influences Republican Attorneys General to use the power of their offices in cases affecting important state and national policy and law.
CMD, a nonpartisan investigative reporting watchdog, has been embroiled in litigation since December 2020 challenging Yost’s refusal to hand over public records concerning his activity with the two powerful influence groups.
At the heart of the dispute is Yost’s arbitrary designation of anything related to RAGA and RLDF as “unofficial” business, and therefore exempt from Ohio’s Open Records Act. CMD won the right to depose the attorney general about his claim in 2021 – a ruling upheld by the Tenth District Court of Appeals last year – but Yost has dragged out proceedings and is now seeking review from the Ohio Supreme Court.
CMD and three amicus groups, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, The Marshall Project, and the Ohio NOW Education and Legal Fund, filed briefs opposing Yost’s appeal yesterday.
“Attorney General Yost’s extraordinary efforts to keep secret his dealings with industry-funded influence groups about official actions he is taking on behalf of Ohio is a clear violation of Ohio’s public records law and cannot be allowed to stand,” said Arn Pearson, CMD’s executive director. “RAGA and RLDF literally sell access to Republican AGs for powerful corporations and exert tremendous influence over the actions of the states’ top legal officers.”