Judge could rule Friday in Dayton school task force open meetings case

Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Lolli is sworn in Thursday during a hearing in the courtroom of Montgomery County Judge Richard Skelton. STAFF/MARK GOKAVI
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Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Lolli is sworn in Thursday during a hearing in the courtroom of Montgomery County Judge Richard Skelton. STAFF/MARK GOKAVI

A Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge heard testimony and arguments as part of the lawsuit brought by a Dayton resident who alleges that a joint city and Dayton Public Schools task force studying school facilities violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

The suit was filed by David Esrati, who filed it without an attorney. Esrati contends he was not allowed to attend a February bus tour of Dayton schools during which task force members went into schools until district attorneys advised them to cancel remaining stops.

DPS attorney Brian Wildermuth argued that the task force was not a public body and, therefore, not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

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Judge Richard Skelton said Thursday he would consider what he heard and review videos submitted by Esrati, adding that he would “determine where I think we’re headed and how before I do anything else.”

Skelton said he may reach a decision Friday and asked Wildermuth if a planned Tuesday meeting for the Dayton Board of Education could be pushed back. Wildermuth said he didn’t have the authority to do that and objected to Thursday’s hearing taking place.

Skelton rejected Wildermuth’s motion to dismiss the case with prejudice.

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Esrati questioned Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and also was cross-examined by Wildermuth during the nearly 2½-hour, wide-ranging hearing.

Esrati asked why he was not allowed to go into schools while certain media outlets were — without cameras, purportedly to protect student identities, he said. Lolli said she didn’t consider Esrati a media member.

Esrati disagreed with that assessment. He said that regardless, “The open records law grants access to everybody. They missed that part.”

Esrati submitted for evidence emails he requested from Dayton Public Schools about the task force’s formation and videos of the day he tried to go on the bus tour plus news stories.

Wildermuth and Dayton city attorney John Musto reserved the right to object to some of Esrati’s submissions. Wildermuth also submitted items for evidence with no objection.

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Skelton repeatedly told Esrati he was giving leeway because the plaintiff wasn’t an attorney. Skelton sustained several defense objections for questions that were deemed not relevant.

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