If the adverse publicity from pleading guilty to a minor crime — say indecent exposure or public intoxication — is likely to cause you mental anguish, pray that you go before a judge like Robert Lyons in Oxford.
Lyons is the Butler County judge who took the guilty plea from the former Miami University student who posted the “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flier in a dormitory bathroom in October. Lyons sealed the file in November, shielding the young man’s name from public view. Facing an Ohio Supreme Court challenge from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the judge dropped the disorderly conduct rap a month later and sealed the case again.
Lyons recounts those events in a deposition taken by Enquirer lawyer Jack Greiner Jan.
For starters, he swears he doesn’t remember the defendant’s name, even “if I was tortured.” And here’s why he locked away the case file and kept the Miami U. administration and campus police from disclosing his name: “What I remember about him is that there was certainly concern about his, say, his mental health and there were grounds stated on the record for the necessity of sealing the record. It had to do with his — probably as I recall, more so mental well-being than anything else.”
The student wasn’t the first, nor the last, to be convicted of a crime in Lyons’ courtroom and leave as John Doe. As the part-time judge said under oath, “This is a college town. Record sealings, you know, I would say if I do 10 record sealings in a week, that is not many.”
Lyons is represented by Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Gmoser, who originally prosecuted John Doe, convicting him of disorderly conduct in November. Gmoser has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Lyons.
The Enquirer has other ideas. In a new pleading Jan. 18, the paper said Lyons improperly dismissed the conviction without a statutorily necessary finding of “manifest injustice.” It wants to amend its lawsuit, while sticking with its contention that, in Ohio, judges must do a document-by-document review and conduct a public hearing before sealing case records.
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