Sealing of case files in alleged drug ring called into question

GREEN BAY - Five weeks ago about a dozen people appeared in Brown County court on heroin charges.

Prosecutors have suggested some of those cases, and other arrests since, may be related.

However, most details have been kept sealed from public view, and now the ongoing secrecy is now being called into question.

Since July 16th, prosecutors charged at least 19 heroin cases, which appear to be connected to a large drug ring.

"What I can say, on the record, is it is the largest heroin distribution conspiracy that our area has ever been able to identify at this time," said Asst. Brown County District Attorney Wendy Lemkuil in court on July 16.

For more than a month, FOX 11 has tried to find out more about the alleged conspiracy.

We've attended multiple hearings for the suspects, spending hours in court, so we can get the straight story for our viewers.

But getting specific details has been difficult, because Brown County judges have sealed the the files.

Prosecutors have taken the unusual step of filing requests to keep the normally-public documents hidden, and they won't say why.

Law enforcement involved with the busts had said they could not talk about the investigation because it is ongoing, and because of the court order.

Now - FOX 11 is digging deeper. Friday I filed a request with the court, not to get access to the complete files, but simply the judges' orders to seal the cases.

I wanted to find out why they've been shielded from the public's view.

A court clerk said I can't get even those documents without a hearing because the orders sealing the cases are in the sealed files.

Our request for those secret documents comes even as some of the defense attorneys in these cases are looking for the same kind of information.

"Is this case still sealed? And if it is, I would like to move to have it unsealed," said John Birdsall, Jafari Mahonie's attorney, in court on Thursday.

I asked Mahonie's attorney why he wants his client's case unsealed. He declined an interview, but provided a statement, voicing concerns about civil rights.

Birdsall's statement says: "I made a motion to unseal the file because no one, at anytime, has detailed the justification to me for why the case file is sealed. I imagine that the judge who ordered the sealing of the file was supplied with reasons why that was necessary, but that has never been revealed. In any event, this is now a public case and the Sixth Amendment requires, unequivocally, that defendants are entitled to a public trial, not a secret proceeding."

I contacted Brown County District Attorney David Lasee for a response. He did not return my messages.

Court appearances continue next week.

The hearing on Fox 11's motion to obtain the judges' orders sealing the files has not been scheduled.