Case Western Reserve University doctoral student Barbara Haas Margolius sought access to computer tapes containing data on the emergency response times of Cleveland police. The tapes would be used to analyze Cleveland’s effectiveness in deploying its police force. Margolius requested copies of the tapes, as well as a paper copy of the layout of the information contained on the tapes, to navigate the data more easily.
Both parties agreed that the information stored on the computer tapes constituted a set of public records. They disagreed as to whether Margolius had a right under the Public Records Act to expect release of the records in the form in which they were created. The City of Cleveland contended that the proprietary nature of the software used to read the tapes did not constitute a public record, and therefore rendered the magnetic tape version of the information beyond the reach of the Public Records Act. The City also argued that it was allowed discretion as to the manner in which it released documents so as to save “scarce and valuable resources” of computer time and personnel. They held it would only be possible to release the information on the tapes in a paper format and at great cost to Margolius. The City argued that it should be permitted to produce the information in the form of a computer print-out – which would have cost Margolius $2,400 and would have been 10 feet tall.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on February 5, 1992 that the City of Cleveland was required to make the requested tapes available to the plaintiff in their most usable form. Susan Gilles, the ACLU volunteer attorney who successfully argued the case, wrote in her brief: “If this Court grants the City unbridled discretion to select how to produce requested records, it allows the City to hide important data concerning police activity from public view by selecting a method of production beyond the means of members of the public. By producing the data in unusable form and sticking an exorbitant price tag on these records, the City has effectively evaded review.”
Margolius v. City of Cleveland:
Read the original Ohio Supreme Court filing.