State ex rel. Ames v. Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews, 2023-Ohio-263
This particular case and its parties have an extensive legal and procedural history that we will not bore you with here. The pertinent fact for purposes of this article is the Ohio Supreme Court’s holding that “an invoice for a legal service provided to a public-office client is a public record, with the caveat that the narrative portion of the invoice describing the service is protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege.” Other information on the billing statements—e.g., the general title of the matter being handled, the dates the services were performed, and the hours, rate, and money charged for the services—is considered nonexempt and must be disclosed.
The Eleventh District Court of Appeals of Ohio (Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage, and Trumbull) issued this opinion on remand from the Ohio Supreme Court to consider that very holding when analyzing whether invoices for legal services submitted to Rootstown Township, Ohio which were disclosed pursuant to a public records request were properly redacted. The Township redacted the narrative portions of the invoices.
The rationale behind the rule is that billing records describing the services performed for the attorney’s clients, and any other attorney-client correspondence may reveal the client’s motivation for seeking legal representation, the nature of the services provided or contemplated, strategies to be employed in the event of litigation, and other confidential information exchanged during the course of the representation. “A demand for such documents constitutes an unjustified intrusion into the attorney-client relationship.”
The appeals court conducted a confidential review of the invoices and determined the narrative portions of the invoices were properly redacted before being disclosed. The Court then went on to resolve the legal issues concerning the motion to dismiss in the case.
What does this mean for your District?
As the court noted in a footnote to the decision, the relator in this case, Brian Ames, was attempting to establish a new rule of law—the “[a]ttorney-client privilege does not apply to invoices for legal services provided to a public body.” The relator was not successful here and the contrary holding of the Ohio Supreme Court in this regard remains good law today.