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Published: Tuesday, 6/27/2006

Judge backs secrecy on motion to oust Noe's defense lawyers

Osowik Osowik

Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Osowik yesterday refused a public records request asking him to unseal documents in the criminal case against Tom Noe.

Attorneys for the Columbus Dispatch last week asked Judge Osowik to make public documents pertaining to motions in which the Lucas County prosecutor asked the court to have Noe's attorneys removed.

At the request of the prosecution, Judge Osowik sealed a motion filed by the state on May 26, and also sealed subsequent filings related to it, including arguments against the request made by Noe's attorneys, John Mitchell and William Wilkinson.

But a document submitted on June 7 by the attorneys that wasn't filed under seal asked the court for more time to respond to "the state's motion to disqualify defense counsel Thompson Hine LLP."

The motion seeking disqualification of the law firm was dismissed by Judge Osowik on June 14 in a closed-door meeting with attorneys and prosecutors that was part of a hearing to review pretrial issues.

Noe is charged with 53 felony counts for his alleged role in the theft of millions of dollars from the rare-coin fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. A trial is scheduled for Oct. 10.

In denying the records request, Judge Osowik agreed that the information is a public record, but said the information would remain sealed until the conclusion of the trial. He said releasing it would interfere with the defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial.

At the pretrial hearing on June 14, Judge Osowik rejected a motion from Noe's attorneys asking to move the case out of Lucas County because of unprecedented and overwhelming media coverage of the case.

Matthew Zeiger, an attorney with the Columbus law firm that represents the newspaper, didn't return phone calls.

Mr. Mitchell refused to respond to questions.

John Weglian, an assistant county prosecutor, wouldn't answer questions about the sealed documents or the newspaper's public records request.

Last month, Noe pleaded guilty to three federal campaign-finance charges. He admitted funneling more than $45,000 into the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2003, using two dozen conduits. He is awaiting sentencing in that case.

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