On Friday, June 28, 2024, the Ohio Supreme Court granted writs of mandamus and prohibition to Craig Shubert in his lawsuit against Judge Alison Breaux of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

Shubert, a former journalist, had filed the writ actions to challenge Judge Breaux’s orders sealing court records in the pending criminal case against Jeremiah Stoehr. Stoehr faces charges including rape, kidnapping, gross sexual imposition, and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles involving alleged victims, at least one of whom was under 10 years old.

In May, Stoehr’s defense attorney had filed a motion to seal the case docket, stating Stoehr had received threats after media coverage of the case. Judge Breaux granted the motion the same day without requiring any supporting evidence. She later issued an amended sealing order claiming in chambers discussion had revealed threats against Stoehr, his family, and attorneys, but again without evidence submitted.

Shubert argued the sealing orders violated Ohio Supreme Court Rules regarding public access to court records. The Rules establish a presumption of open access, allowing restriction only if supported by clear and convincing evidence that privacy or safety interests outweigh the public’s right to view. Restrictions must also be narrowly tailored.

In its decision, the Ohio Supreme Court found Judge Breaux’s orders did not meet these standards. No evidence supported the claims of threats at the time of the orders. The judge also did not consider whether limited redactions rather than full sealing of records could protect any legitimate private interests.

The Court therefore granted the writ of mandamus, requiring Judge Breaux to vacate the sealing orders and conduct a new review following the Rules’ guidance. A writ of prohibition also barred enforcing the invalidated orders. While acknowledging some information like victim identities may require protection, the judge had not properly restricted access based on evidence and narrow alternatives.

The ruling largely followed the Court’s precedent from a prior case, with Justices holding individuals need not first file to unseal records before seeking extraordinary relief from improper secrecy orders. The decision reaffirmed Ohio’s strong policy of open courts, only allowing narrowly tailored secrecy in rare cases supported by proof of a concrete need for privacy.

Judge Breaux‘s courtroom is located at 209 S. High Street, Akron, OH 44308, and can be reached at 330.643.2162.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.