Ohio House won’t post text message between House Rep and indicted ex-president
The following article originally appeared in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content sharing agreement.
Lawyers for the Ohio House of Representatives have denied a request to publicly record text messages between a sitting lawmaker and the former House speaker, who was kicked out by his peers while doing the accused of racketeering related to alleged public corruption.
State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville and Larry Householder regularly text and talk to each other on the phone. Edwards said they always avoided discussing the criminal case against Householder and usually, but not always, also avoided discussing public policy.
However, an Ohio House attorney on Tuesday denied a public records request for the texts between the two, saying none could be located. Edwards, in an interview Tuesday night, offered a simple explanation.
“You’re going down the rabbit hole saying Jay Edwards is deleting texts with Larry Householder. No, that’s not true,” he said. “Jay Edwards is deleting all texts. other people; I spend the night and delete the SMS that I don’t find useful.
Head of household was arrested in July 2020 and dethroned as speaker soon after. He has pleaded guilty and is awaiting trial, scheduled for this fall. He was expelled from the House in June 2021.
Texts between the pair first came to light when The Columbus Dispatch reported that Householder texted Edwards on Feb. 18 about a data privacy bill that Edwards opposed. Edwards’ opposition avoided a vote that day.
The Ohio Capital Journal requested all texts between Edwards and Householder between June 1, 2021 (around the time the House expelled Householder) and February 18, 2022, the date of the request.
Governments can destroy certain records, but “only if they are destroyed in accordance with a duly approved records retention schedule,” according to the attorney general’s guidelines.
Ohio Public Records Law allows anyone to request and receive copies of records from government agencies and government officials.
Josh Sabo, House counsel and policy adviser to the current Speaker of the House, said after a search that “we have determined that we have no records that meet your request.”
In his email, he cited House policy that allows lawmakers to destroy “transitional records,” which include documents “that serve to convey information of temporary significance; documents in lieu of oral communication, such as phone messages, post-it notes, text messages, voicemail messages, and fax transmission cover sheets; and drafts.
He did not respond to follow-up questions, including whether that means Edwards destroyed texts with Householder. The House cited the “transitional” recordings policy in denying a request for text messages from Householder referenced in a criminal complaint against him.
Edwards said he would hand over the text if he still had it. He said he and Householder were old friends. Their lyrics, he claimed, focus more on Perry County, southeast Ohio, Hocking College, and life in general than on state house issues.
“Quite frankly, I check my phone and delete a lot of text messages, and if it’s something that I feel like it’s a public record, and it is, then I don’t wouldn’t have erased,” he said.
Edwards was previously a member of the House leadership when Householder presided as Speaker. Neil Clark, a lobbyist who was arrested alongside Householder, told Cleveland.com that Edwards was “Rep 8” in Householder’s complaint.
Edwards voted for House Bill 6 – the legislation at the center of the lawsuits against Householder – and was one of 22 House lawmakers to vote against Householder’s expulsion.