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Documents sealed in defamation suit related to Garrett J. Phillips murder investigation


POTSDAM — A federal judge has sealed all information contained in a motion for summary judgment filed by village police in a lawsuit brought by Oral “Nick” Hillary because the motion includes facts related to the ongoing murder investigation of Garrett J. Phillips.

Mr. Hillary filed state Supreme Court action in Canton in September 2012, claiming police detained him illegally and damaged his reputation by making statements implicating him in the death of the 12-year-old boy, who was found strangled Oct. 24, 2011, at the youth’s Market Street apartment. The lawsuit was moved to U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in November 2012 because Mr. Hillary is further claiming that his federal constitutional rights were violated.

The village filed a motion Monday asking, among other things, that the case be dismissed. A summary judgment motion essentially asks a judge to decide a case on its merits, arguing that there are no disputed facts that need to be resolved at trial. Litigants then support their contentions through a statement of material facts and a memorandum of law outlining why they believe the judge has all of the information necessary to rule on the case.

Because the homicide investigation is ongoing, the village, through its attorney, Thomas J. Mortati, asked that the village be allowed to file its statement of material facts and memorandum of law under seal. The request was accompanied by a letter from St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain, who agreed the motion will include “many sensitive documents” concerning the investigation into Garrett Phillips’s death. “Because this is still an ongoing homicide investigation, the publication of these documents would be extremely detrimental to the case,” Ms. Rain wrote. “I wholeheartedly join in any effort to keep those documents sealed from the public purview.”

Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe approved the request Monday.

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