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Published: 7/28/2005

Petro's stonewall

NOTHING speaks more profoundly to the arrogance of the Republican cabal in Columbus than the maddening refusal of Attorney General James Petro to comply with a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Two weeks ago the court made it clear in a 5-2 decision that all records related to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and its rare-coin investment funds were public documents that could not be withheld from the citizens of Ohio.

On July 28, we're still waiting.

Attorney General Petro continues to stonewall The Blade's efforts to shine the hard light of day on some 120 boxes (by Mr. Petro's count) of records related to the coin funds - cherrypicking, by his own admission, what he thinks we can access.

So far we've seen the contents of just three boxes. Accordingly, The Blade filed a motion Wednesday with the Ohio Supreme Court requesting that the court find the defendant in contempt, appoint a receiver to take over the records in Mr. Petro's custody, and facilitate their immediate release.

It is impossible not to conclude that this is all about a prominent Republican state officeholder reluctant to see his party lose its hegemony over Ohio in the 2006 election. Mr. Petro needs to understand it's quite likely that ship has already sailed.

At least, it must be said, Mr. Petro is being consistent in the art of foot-dragging.

From April 3, when The Blade first began reporting a scandal that early on we dubbed "Coingate," to May 26, when coin dealer Tom Noe's attorney acknowledged that some $10 million to $12 million in public money was missing, the attorney general remained silent.

Over that period of weeks, Mr. Noe unloaded personal assets that might have been purchased with the state's money. Only belatedly, and reluctantly it seemed, did the attorney general pay attention to the mess swirling around the BWC and Mr. Noe's management of two rare-coin funds.

However, we believed that Mr. Petro would certainly find "religion" after the state's highest court came down decisively on the side of openness and public records.

We thought we saw progress last Thursday when the attorney general flat-out said at a press conference that Mr. Noe stole nearly $4 million in taxpayer money invested with the coin funds. Consequently, this newspaper and the public assumed full disclosure of supporting documents would finally occur - and quickly.

Instead Mr. Petro seems to be confused about a Supreme Court ruling that no attorney general could possibly misunderstand. The records, he said, are the subject of an "ongoing review process," adding that he would determine which could be released and which would be exempt from disclosure.

What gall to assume he has the right to pick and choose! The Supreme Court said nothing in its order about exemptions.

Mr. Petro's office says only that it wants to comply with a letter from Inspector General Thomas Charles urging caution in determining what is public record and what isn't. But Mr. Charles' letter to Mr. Petro is dated June 17, weeks before the Supreme Court's ruling.

A Supreme Court decision certainly trumps a letter from the inspector general.

It's regrettable The Blade has had to go back to the Supreme Court to force compliance with a clear and indisputably correct decision.

The attorney general of this state has more than 11 million constituents. He wants to be their governor? It's time he put their interests ahead of his own and his party's.

Mr. Petro needs to release everything he's withholding - and he needs to do so at once.



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