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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Court orders Taft to provide documents

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS The Ohio Supreme Court today ordered Gov. Bob Taft to provide documents to the high court that he wants to keep secret.

Today s unanimous decision sided with state Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown area Democrat who urged the Supreme Court last month to examine the documents, saying failure to do so would strike a blow against citizens who file taxpayers' lawsuits to "halt illegal government activity or corruption involving misuse of public funds."

Mr. Taft in April filed documents with the high court to explain why weekly reports from a former high-ranking aide, James Samuel, and his predecessors back to 1999 that the governor said don't contain information about the bureau should not be released to the public.

"I personally reviewed these reports each week and relied on them to assist me in identifying issues that raised potential policy concerns, required my direct attention or input, or needed further review by my office," wrote Mr. Taft.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, a Republican, said the high court privately would examine the records that Mr. Taft wants to keep secret, to determine if Mr. Dann has shown a need for the public to see the records that trumps the governor s limited executive privilege.

In short, the parties disagree as to the identity and content of the documents Dann seeks. That is, a factual dispute exists between the parties concerning the contents of the records and their relevance to management of the BWC fund. Only this court can resolve that dispute while still preserving the gubernatorial-communications privilege we have established, Chief Justice Moyer wrote.

The Supreme Court said Mr. Taft had until 4 p.m. Friday to submit to the court s clerk the original records and seven copies under seal.

In a 5-2 decision released April 13, the state Supreme Court ruled for the first time in Ohio history that Mr. Taft and future governors have a limited power to keep some office records secret from the public.

In June, 2005, Mr. Dann submitted a public records request for weekly reports prepared by James Samuel, a former Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation official who was the governor's executive assistant for business and industry, and all of his predecessors in that post.

Mr. Taft released several weekly reports, but parts were blacked out and more than 200 were withheld, based on the governor's conclusion that they didn't contain information that related to the bureau.

Mr. Dann, who is running for attorney general, has said more documents could shed additional light on why up to $13 million is unaccounted for in the state's rare-coin investment controlled by Tom Noe and why the state lost $216 million in a risky hedge fund managed by Mark D. Lay of MDL Capital Management, of Pittsburgh.

Yesterday, Mr. Dann said yesterday: The Supreme Court is looking at the documents, which is all we expected when we started. Hopefully, they'll do the right thing."

Mr. Dann said he had hoped that the court would review all of the weekly reports - not just those limited to the bureau - so the public could judge if there was wrongdoing in other parts of executive branch.

Mr. Dann repeated his call for the governor to make all of the records available immediately.

"He should give up the documents," Mr. Dann said. "It's what's best for the state."

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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