Thursday, January 29, 2004

Judge: Allen must testify in morgue case


Families allege cover-up to protect officials

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen was ordered Wednesday to testify about claims of a cover-up in the investigation of a man who photographed bodies at the county morgue.

U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel ruled that Allen and three lawyers in his office must give sworn depositions about the allegations, which are part of a federal lawsuit filed by families whose dead relatives were photographed at the morgue.

Allen had argued that the allegations were without merit and claimed that the demand for his deposition would require him to violate attorney-client privilege.

But Spiegel said the families have a right to investigate their theory that Allen and others participated in a cover-up that may have shielded high-ranking county officials from prosecution.

In his ruling, the judge said he has not concluded that there was a cover-up, only that the evidence "can be reasonably construed" to support such a theory.

"(The families) should be entitled to depose the four prosecuting attorneys on issues relating to the alleged cover-up," Spiegel wrote in his decision.

Allen declined comment Wednesday. But First Assistant Prosecutor Carl Stich said the ruling infringes on an attorney's right to protect his relationship with his clients. Allen was named in the lawsuit because, as prosecutor, he is legal counsel for Coroner Carl Parrott.

Stich said Allen should not be compelled to violate attorney-client privilege simply because someone develops a theory about a cover-up.

"I don't know where it stops," Stich said. "There's enough evidence to support the theory that there's a Bermuda Triangle or a Bigfoot, too."

The judge will ultimately decide how much of the testimony should be allowed in court if the case goes to trial.

The families' lawsuit claims the county owes them damages because photographer Thomas Condon took posed photos of their relatives in the morgue between August 2000 and January 2001. The photos showed the bodies posed with props such as sea shells, doll house furniture and sheet music.

Condon claimed he had permission to be in the morgue, but Parrott and Allen have said he only was authorized to do research for a training video.

Condon was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse and sentenced to 18 months in prison. A pathologist, Jonathan Tobias, also was convicted in the case but later cleared on appeal.

The families claim prosecutors made Tobias a scapegoat to protect Parrott and others at the morgue.

"This lawsuit is very much about government accountability," said Al Gerhardstein, lawyer for the families.

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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