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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2003

Justices hear case on privileged data


COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday weighed in on a Lucas County case testing whether the basic legal tenet of attorney/client privilege extends to the financial relationship between the two.

The county prosecutor is trying to get a look at Toledo defense attorney John F. Potts' billing records for client Donald Lentz of Camden Street, who faces six counts of laundering money allegedly earned from cocaine-dealing.

Assistant Prosecutor Thomas A. Matuszak argued the information is necessary to help build the case that Mr. Lentz spent more than he legitimately earned. Mr. Potts' attorney, John Czarnecki, countered that prosecutors could use such subpoenas to shop for defense lawyers, knowing a lawyer would be disqualified once he becomes part of the evidence against his client.

“If you give them this power, you will allow the state to select the lawyer,” said Mr. Czarnecki. “They will be able to continue to subpoena a succession of lawyers until they find one they believe to be incompetent, inept, or both.”

Mr. Lentz remains free on bond while his prosecution is held up by this issue. A search of his home in 1999 failed to turn up drugs, but it uncovered records that helped lead to an indictment for laundering.

The county Court of Common Pleas had held Mr. Potts in contempt when he refused to turn over his payment records to the court for review behind closed doors.

The Sixth District Court of Appeals later threw out the contempt citation, but it agreed Judge Charles Doneghy needed to look at the records in question to reach a decision. Three years after the issuance of the subpoena, no court has seen those records.

“I would submit to you that attorney Potts' stonewalling of this issue has given new meaning to the phrase `justice delayed is justice denied,'” Mr. Matuszak told the court.

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