Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Petro accused of holding out on coin records

Because of the slow pace of handing over the records, The Blade asked the Supreme Court yesterday to find the bureau and the two coin funds in contempt of court and requested that a receiver be appointed to take custody of the records.

Blade attorney Fritz Byers, in the motion, labeled the attorney general s conduct a disobedient refusal to comply with the high court s July 13 ruling.

Mr. Byers rejected state Attorney General Jim Petro s announcement last week that he is obligated to review the documents before they are released to the public and the media.

The Supreme Court s ruling is clear and indisputably correct, Mr. Byers said yesterday in an interview. Neither the ruling nor any of the principles of law suggests that the attorney general or any other official can review the records to determine if the Supreme Court was correct in ordering that they be made public.

In his motion before the high court, Mr. Byers criticized the attorney general s attempt to review the documents before they are released.

The position taken by the attorney general ... manifests either immense disrespect for the constitutional allocation of powers or an incredible tone-deafness, he wrote. The public repudiation of this court s judgment by the state s attorney general can have no other effect than a grievous erosion in respect for the rule of law.

Mr. Byers also asked the court to impose monetary sanctions against the bureau and the coin funds and coercive monetary sanctions until the court s order is complied with.

The Blade asked the Supreme Court in May to order the bureau to provide access to uncensored audit reports of the coin inventories and records documenting transactions of the coin funds.

Mr. Noe established the funds and convinced bureau officials to give him $50 million to invest in rare coins.

The bureau was planning to invest another $25 million with Mr. Noe until The Blade began writing about the funds, and problems with their management, in early April.

On May 26, state officials announced they were pursuing civil and criminal measures against Mr. Noe after his attorney informed authorities that up to $13 million was missing from the rare-coin investment.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on July 13 that the coin-fund records are public records and should be made available.

But since releasing the initial three boxes of records last week, Mr. Petro s office has refused to release any additional records.

Mr. Petro went to law school and knows what the Supreme Court s unambiguous opinion means, said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.

He has no choice but to turn over the records immediately. I wonder if this is a calculated political decision that it is better to be held in contempt of the Supreme Court than to reveal what is in those records.

Kim Norris, a spokesman for Mr. Petro, said yesterday that no more records were likely to be released this week.

We are complying with the court s order, she said. We are reviewing the records to determine which documents are responsive to the court s order and at the same time taking into consideration the criminal investigative team s request to keep confidential certain investigatory documents.

Ms. Norris released a letter yesterday from the Ohio inspector general s office that asks the attorney general s office not to release any more records because of their potential impact on the ongoing criminal and civil investigations into Mr. Noe and his business dealings.

In that letter, the inspector general s chief legal counsel, Lora Manon, argued that some of the Noe records held by the attorney general s office relate to the multiagency investigation of Mr. Noe and may pertain to conduct prohibited by statute or administrative rule.

Those documents, records, and data are exempt from disclosure as public records, as you know, Ms. Manon wrote to the attorney general s office.

Specifically, we are requesting that you not release, to either the media or others, any of the remaining records, data, information, etc. you were given, she wrote.

Mr. Byers said that is a wrong interpretation of state law.

This is stunning. That a governmental lawyer representing an appointee of the governor would advise the attorney general to disobey a decision of the Supreme Court reflects a grave threat to the state s constitutional theme and the rule of law, Mr. Byers said.

Ms. Manon, although requesting that no records be released, also said that care should be taken to not release personal correspondence, notes, personal financial statements, and private calendars.

However, Ms. Manon wrote that the attorney general can release the unredacted transaction records and audit reports of coin inventory records for the two coins funds and other information contained in the 40 boxes of materials associated with those funds.

As the Ohio Supreme Court held, those records are clearly public records and are subject to disclosure, she wrote.

Inspector General Tom Charles could not be reached for comment.

Records released last week included bank statements, loan statements, and checks between Mr. Noe s coin funds and their subsidiaries.

No personal financial information was released.

The attorney general has control of tens of thousands of documents, many produced by a search warrant of Mr. Noe s Vintage Coins business in Monclova Township in May.

They include, according to Ms. Manon s letter, 46 boxes of documents that pertain to Tom Noe Inc., the parent company of Vintage Coins and Collectibles, as well as seven boxes of records obtained by grand jury subpoena.

In its July 13 ruling, the high court rejected the state s argument that Mr. Noe s records, which show the sellers, dates, and purchase prices of coins in the state s inventory, as well as other financial transactions, are trade secrets exempt from the Ohio Public Records Act.

Writing for the majority, Democratic Justice Alice Robie Resnick of Ottawa Hills said the documents should be released immediately for public inspection.

Five Ohio appellate court justices were appointed to hear the case after five Supreme Court justices recused themselves from the case because they had accepted campaign contributions from Mr. Noe.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican, added in a concurring opinion: From the outset, the Bureau of Workers

Compensation s trade secret argument seemed more a delaying tactic than a legitimate legal issue.

State Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown-area Democrat, said yesterday that the state s delay in releasing the records to The Blade is looking like a pattern.

He has been fighting the governor s office over the release of weekly staff reports.

The stonewalling that s going on in these cases is truly reminiscent of Richard Nixon, he said, referring to the months of delays it took to get information from Mr. Nixon s White House during Watergate.

Mr. Dann said the attorney general s office should not be reviewing records to determine which ones to release.

Whether or not they re public has already been litigated and won, he said.

He criticized Mr. Petro, saying he should take more of a watchdog role rather than act solely as the attorney for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

At some point you have to hold the attorney general of the state accountable for not standing up to his clients when the law is clear, he said.

Nothing could be more clear than a Supreme Court decision ordering the release of certain records.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at:

or 419-724-6104.

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