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A citizen activist says he was wronged by the failure of a small Ohio city to give him 20 years of 911 tapes he sought, which were long ago recorded over. The city says he can prove no harm and that he didn't even want the tapes — he wanted the thousands in penalty dollars for requesting records that no longer exist.

Attorneys for both sides argued Wednesday before the Ohio Supreme Court, disagreeing on whether Timothy Rhodes was "aggrieved" by the failure of the city of New Philadelphia to retain the thousands of daily tapes he requested in 2007.

If the court decides in his favor, Rhodes and plaintiffs in about half a dozen similar suits around Ohio could collect big — and, their lawyers say, they will also have scored a big victory for government transparency.

Rhodes' attorney Craig Conley argued it is wrong to paint his client as a money grubber, after Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor asked whether only one party could "cash in" under the law as he read it.

"First of all, I don't agree with ... 'cash in.' The case law is clear: This is not compensation to the requesting party, this is a penalty designed to punish and deter," he said. "And without it, the right of access without a remedy is a meaningless right."

New Philadelphia attorney John McLandrich argued a decision in Rhodes' favor would "set off a gold rush" of citizens seeking records they know are no longer available. He said a person doesn't need a pure motive for wanting to look at the records, but they have to have some kind of motive.


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