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Published: Friday, 6/30/2006

Court urged to release Noe records

The Blade argued yesterday that the public should be able to see a motion filed by the state in the Tom Noe case that was sealed by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Thomas J. Osowik.

Judge Osowik s decision to keep secret the state s reasons for wanting to bar a certain law firm from defending Tom Noe violated the U.S. and state constitutions and the Ohio public records law, according to a motion filed by The Blade in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Judge Osowik did not grant the state s motion to exclude the law firm, Thompson Hine LLP, but he improperly kept secret the state s reasoning for the request, according to The Blade s motion.

He also improperly held a closed-door meeting to make that decision, the motion argues.

The sealing is unlawful because it denies public access to a document, the motion says. The order sealing the state s motion must therefore be vacated.

The Blade argues that it should be able to see what is in the motion, which would presumably hold the state s reasoning for not wanting the law firm involved with the case.

The motion seeking disqualification of the law firm was dismissed by the judge on June 14 in the closed-door meeting that included attorneys and prosecutors and 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 a rare-coin fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

A trial on those charges is scheduled for Oct. 10.

The move to seal the motion went against U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which states that to seal such a motion there must be a hearing, not a closed-door meeting, to argue its merits, the motion says.

Procedurally, the sealing is unlawful because the court appears to have acted without any public proceeding, without notifying the public or the press of the prospective sealing, the motion says.

The Blade s motion also asks to officially become a part of the legal dispute, which was first brought by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

Attorneys for the Dispatch this month asked Judge Osowik to make public the documents pertaining to the state s motion.

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

Judge Osowik said the motion and related documents needed to be sealed until the end of the trial to ensure a fair trial.



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