Darrell Clay

After a nearly two-year legal battle, Walter | Haverfield partner, Darrell Clay won a lawsuit against the philanthropic arm of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) over a sought-after speaker’s contract. Clay represented Bill Sheil, an investigative reporter at Cleveland’s Fox affiliate, Fox 8, and the contract showed how much the Tri-C Foundation paid Academy-Award winning actress, Octavia Spencer to speak at a fundraising luncheon.

Sheil first requested the contract in 2017 as part of a public records request, and by law, public institutions must comply with Ohio’s Public Records Act. But the Tri-C Foundation denied the request claiming it is “a private, nonprofit organization that is not subject to open records requests.”

Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled there was clear and convincing evidence that the Tri-C Foundation “operates as the functional equivalent of a public entity,” making it subject to the Public Records Act. The court also rejected the Tri-C Foundation’s claim that the contract with Spencer was a trade secret exempt from disclosure. As a result, the foundation had to release the contract to Sheil.

Spencer’s contract revealed that the Tri-C Foundation paid Spencer $150,500 (plus first-class travel expenses for two) to attend the fundraising luncheon. The event lasted two hours and twenty minutes. In response, Tri-C issued a statement saying that speaker fees “are paid with private, not public, dollars.” It also said the event “netted approximately $1 million for scholarships.”

The Eighth District’s decision can be found here. For additional information, check out Fox 8’s stories on this case here and here.

Darrell Clay is a partner at Walter | Haverfield and a member of the firm’s Litigation team who regularly practices in the area of First Amendment law. He can be reached at 216-928-2896 or at dclay@walterhav.com.