On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court brought to a close a big waste of time. The justices declined to hold Phil Trexler, a Beacon Journal staff writer, in contempt for refusing to testify in a disciplinary hearing conducted by the Akron Bar Association.
Judge Paul Gallagher of the Summit County Common Pleas Court triggered the events with his response to a story by Trexler about a man who was arrested and jailed for failing to appear at a court hearing. The man said in the story that he did not know about the hearing. Larry Shenise, the attorney representing the man, said the court had failed to notify him. The next thing, Gallagher filed a disciplinary complaint against Shenise, and the bar got involved.
After Shenise claimed he was misquoted, the bar wanted to talk with Trexler. It issued a subpoena, which this newspaper challenged, offering instead an affidavit standing behind the accuracy of the entire story.
The pursuit of Trexler should have ended there. As Justice Paul Pfeifer argued in dissent last month, when the high court ordered the paper to explain why it should not be held in contempt: “Exerting the judiciary’s authority over the press is a significant matter, and should be employed as sparingly as possible, and certainly never in circumstances as trivial as these.”
Pfeifer described the subpoena as a “pointless act,” adding that nothing in the story amounted to misconduct on the part of Larry Shenise. Which gets back to the waste of time, set in motion by the judge and amplified by the bar.