Thursday, May 17, 2001

Sealed records ignite conflict

Butler County commissioner criticizes prosecutor's actions

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A Butler County commissioner says he's concerned about “what appears to be a pattern to suppress access to information” in two child abuse cases. But Prosecutor Robin Piper says he won't investigate the concerns now.

        “Ultimately, what is at issue is the defendant's guilt or innocence, and that is to be determined at the trial,” Mr. Piper said Wednesday in a statement. “It is inappropriate to comment about isolated issues in a pending case regardless of who brings up those issues. ... No investigation ... will be held at this time.”

        Mr. Piper's response came after he learned that commissioner Michael A. Fox was drafting a letter about assistant prosecutor Kacy Eaves' actions in at least two cases.

        Mr. Fox wants Mr. Piper to look into the cases of Jon Cook, a Hamilton firefighter/paramedic charged with two counts of child endangering, and James Neil Howard, a Hamilton man facing four charges.

        Last month, Mr. Cook's trial was delayed after a doctor declined to testify for the defense, saying that doing so could damage his career. Mr. Fox thinks that wouldn't have been tolerated if the doctor had been a prosecution witness, and he wants to know whether anyone connected to the prosecutor's office “"directly or indirectly” influenced that decision.

        In Mr. Howard's case, Mr. Fox is bothered that Ms. Eaves persuaded a judge on Tuesday to seal medical records regarding Mr. Howard's baby boy, Draven. “The medical records are at the core of this case, and to shut those records off from public scrutiny is just wrong,” Mr. Fox said.

        Mr. Fox said he is concerned that some of the records “actually are contrary to the conclusion reached in the indictment.”

        Ms. Eaves declined to comment.

        Draven's mother, Angie Howard, says she wanted the records to remain open.

        “Anyone who knows what they're talking about and looks at the records would see the inconsistencies,” she said. “Five different doctors say five different things about the timing and the type of injuries. I think (Ms. Eaves) doesn't want anyone to know that.”

        Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth, who sealed the records, wouldn't comment on this specific case, but offered general remarks.

        The law presumes that medical records are confidential and “a victim's records don't automatically become public record because there's a case being prosecuted,” Judge Spaeth said.

        He said parties may petition to have the records unsealed. , “We may have to revisit this ruling.”


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