ATHENS, Ohio — State search warrants served on the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority have been sealed by court order, according to records obtained by the Independent.
Court orders sealed two warrants: One to search the premises of 10 Hope Drive, the AMHA offices, and one to search the premises of 10 Hope Drive “maintenance.”
Athens County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick J. Lang ordered the warrants be sealed on Dec. 12, 2022, four days after the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office and U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Office of Inspector General served the warrants. The day after the search, AMHA’s board voted to place Jodi Rickard, its executive director of three years, on administrative leave.
A motion by the State of Ohio prompted the seal orders, which were prepared by the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutor Keller Blackburn declined to comment on the specific reasons for the court orders but said such orders are a “common practice in law enforcement.”
In an email, Andrea Zeidler, an attorney with the state auditor’s office’s Open Government Unit, said disclosure of the search warrants “would reveal an uncharged suspect” and that the warrants were sealed “to protect the rights of target(s) of the investigation and witnesses, during the time while the investigation is ongoing. The seal order is in effect until such time in which all suspects have been indicted.”
Athens-based attorney Scott Petroff, who specializes in search and seizure cases, told the Independent that search warrants are generally publicly available, but that orders to seal search warrants are not necessarily unusual.
AMHA’s attorney David Mott said he believed the subject of the warrants was Rickard’s conduct, not that of the housing authority as a whole. Rickard, who was appointed in January 2020 after an 18-year career with the agency, has not returned phone calls and texts.
The Independent obtained the seal orders from the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office after various efforts to obtain copies of the warrants themselves.
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Mott claimed AMHA no longer had copies of either the state or federal search warrants. The office of the Athens County Clerk of Courts claimed on Jan. 4 that it could not locate the search warrants.
A representative of the state auditor’s office initially declined the Independent’s request for the warrants without providing sufficient legal explanation as required by Ohio’s Open Records Laws. After a request for such explanation, the office referenced the court orders to seal the warrants.
Before attempting to get copies of the orders from the state auditor’s office, the Independent requested confirmation that the orders existed from Athens County Clerk of Courts Candy Russell. Russell, who signed the orders when they were filed with the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, replied on Jan. 31 that no public information could be released.
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