Newman v. State, 31

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBATTAGLIA.
Citation384 Md. 285,863 A.2d 321
PartiesElsa NEWMAN v. STATE of Maryland.
Docket NumberNo. 31,31
Decision Date13 December 2004

863 A.2d 321
384 Md. 285

STATE of Maryland

No. 31, September Term, 2004.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

December 13, 2004.

863 A.2d 323
Barry H. Helfand (David A. Martella, Rockville; Michael A. Wein, Greenbelt), on brief, for petitioner

Byron L. Warnken, Michael P. Lytle, Baltimore, brief of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Assoc., for petitioner, amicus curiae.

Edward J. Kelley, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. of Maryland, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.

Argued before BELL, C.J., and WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, John C. ELDRIDGE (Retired Specially Assigned) LAWRENCE F. RODOWSKY (Retired Specially Assigned), JJ.


This case presents the issue of the proper scope of the attorney-client privilege and whether a curative instruction adequately counteracted the prejudice of eliciting testimony about the exercise of a defendant's Miranda rights. Because we

863 A.2d 324
find that the communications between Elsa Newman [hereinafter "Newman"] and her former attorney, Stephen Friedman [hereinafter "Friedman"], at issue in the present case fall within the attorney-client privilege and are not subject to the crime-fraud exception, we reverse the decision by the Court of Special Appeals and remand the case to the Circuit Court for a new trial. As guidance for the trial court on remand, we also will address whether the curative instruction adequately dispelled the prejudice caused by eliciting improper testimony about the exercise of Newman's Miranda rights

I. Background

A. Facts

Newman and Arlen Slobodow [hereinafter "Slobodow"] married in 1990, and thereafter they had two sons together, Lars and Herbie. In 1999, Newman's marriage to Slobodow deteriorated and the couple began divorce and custody proceedings in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland during which Newman was represented by Friedman. During the course of Friedman's representation of Newman in the spring of 2001, Friedman asked Newman's close friend, Margery Landry [hereinafter "Landry"], to be present in his meetings with Newman for a "cool head in the room." Landry and Newman discussed various plans involving harming Newman's children and blaming Slobodow while in Friedman's presence.

On August 31, 2001, Newman met with Friedman in preparation for a custody hearing on September 4, 2001 before Circuit Court Judge James Ryan. At one point during her meeting with Friedman, Newman stated, "You know, I don't have to kill both children. I only need to kill Lars because I can save Herbie, and then Arlen [Slobodow] will go to jail and get what he deserves because he is a criminal, and I can at least save Herbie."

Friedman disclosed to Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Louise Scrivener the statements made by Newman the previous Friday. After Judge Scrivener informed Judge James Ryan of Friedman's disclosure, Judge Ryan announced the substance of Friedman's disclosure during the custody hearing on September 4, 2001. Newman was granted supervised visitation and Friedman's appearance as her counsel of record was stricken. The trial on the merits was postponed until December 7, 2001, and then again to January 28, 2002.

Prior to the trial on the merits, on January 7, 2002, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Landry entered Slobodow's house through an unlocked basement window carrying pornographic materials and a Smith and Wesson 9MM handgun. In Slobodow's bedroom, she found him asleep in bed and fired two shots hitting Slobodow once in the right leg. Slobodow struggled with Landry, pulling off her mask, and Landry fled the bedroom. Slobodow went downstairs, was attacked once more by Landry, and during the altercation bit Landry's finger. Landry left the house.

Later that morning, Montgomery County Police arrested Landry at her home. On January 9, 2002, the State of Maryland filed charges against Newman for conspiracy to commit first degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and Newman was arrested the following day. Thereafter, Landry pled guilty to assault, burglary, reckless endangerment, use of a handgun in the commission of a felony, and obliterating the serial number on a gun. On December 17, 2002, she was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment, with all but twenty years suspended.

863 A.2d 325
B. Procedural History

On April 4, 2002, Newman appeared in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland and entered a plea of not guilty. On June 28, 2002, the Circuit Court held a pretrial hearing in which it considered the State's oral Motion in Limine to compel Friedman to testify about the matters that he had disclosed to Judge Scrivener. The State called Friedman to the stand. Newman requested that the court clear the courtroom prior to Friedman's testimony to preserve the confidentiality of Friedman's testimony prior to the court's ruling on its status under the attorney-client privilege. After the judge rejected that request, Newman asserted that the attorney-client privilege precluded Friedman's testimony, for which she was granted a standing objection. At the close of Friedman's testimony concerning his relationship with Newman and the content of his disclosure to Judge Scrivener pursuant to Rule 1.6 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct,1 the court ruled that Friedman acted reasonably in disclosing Newman's statements under Rule 1.6 and that his disclosure obviated Newman's attorney-client privilege regarding the disclosed statements.

On August 2, 2002, the State called Friedman to the stand at Newman's trial. Under court order, Friedman testified as follows:

STATE: When — during that period of time from two to seven, aside from the break that you took, was there anyone else meeting — or in the room with you and Ms. Newman?
FRIEDMAN: I think I spared Ms. Rogers [his secretary] and let her do something else. She probably popped in and out, but mostly it was just me and Ms. Newman.
* * *
FRIEDMAN: She had stopped being in a rage, got very quiet, very thoughtful, and tilted her head a little, and her eyes rolled up, and spoke in a voice different from her normal voice.
STATE: What did she say?
FRIEDMAN: She said, "You know, I don't have to kill both children. I only need to kill Lars because I can save Herbie, and then Arlen will go to jail and get what he deserves because he is a criminal, and at least I can save Herbie."
STATE: What was your response when she said this to you?
FRIEDMAN: Well, this had been going on all day — actually it had been going on for two years. What I said to her is what I would say to her in the past, and that is, "Ms. Newman, this is like talking about a bomb in the airport."
"There are consequences when you say things like that. You cannot involve
863 A.2d 326
me in a murder case, and you need to convince me that you are just frustrated, and angry, and scared to death," and Ms. Newman was just scared to death before trial. She would be so scared she couldn't prepare for trial. I think that is why she was firing me, she wouldn't come in to meet with me because she was so horrified of going to court, that is what I wanted to rationalize, and I said, "You need to convince me that you are just upset — not say it, you need to convince me, or otherwise, I am going to tell Judge Ryan."
* * *
STATE: About how many times do you think she told you that she was considering killing Arlen [Slobodow]?
FRIEDMAN: She and Margery [Landry] literally sat in front of me in my office and conspired to do it, that is why I had to bar Margery from coming into my office2
* * *
STATE: When did that happen, Mr. Friedman?
FRIEDMAN: It happened twice.
* * *
STATE: And could you tell us about that conversation?
FRIEDMAN: Elsa and Margery would sit in my office — and I invit[ed] Margery into the conversations because I wanted what I thought would be a cool head in the room.
* * *
FRIEDMAN: The first time it happened I was reading a report, and they literally sat there, and Elsa was terribly distraught because it was during a time where — and they do this is the District of Columbia — I mean it is almost ex parte — in the District of Columbia if somebody swears out an abuse allegation, they take your kids away from you, and they say, "Well, you can have a hearing in three to six months."
Well, in his case Elsa was in terrible agony because they gave the kids to the person that she was convinced was sexually abusing them, and if she was right, this was a monstrous screw up in the system, and they wouldn't give us a hearing.
So she is very distraught over this, and as I said, I cut women in this — I represent abused women, and this is some of the worst kind of abuse, and I cut people a lot of slack because I expect them to be appropriately very emotionally distraught, and she would sit there — and she sat there in front of me, and I was reading a report about something, and she was talking to Margie about shooting him and framing Arlen, and I will have to have an excuse — you know if — you know, should I do it, or how should we do it?
Should we hire someone, and she said, "No. No. Ruthann3 said always do it [yourself] because when you try and hire somebody, you get caught."

863 A.2d 327
(Footnotes added). Newman once again asserted that the attorney-client privilege precluded the admission of Friedman's testimony, which the court rejected

During the trial, the State also called Detective Mercer, the officer who arrested Newman, to testify in its case in chief, and asked her, "And what rights did you advise [Newman] of?" Detective Mercer responded, "That she had the right to remain silent, she had the right to an attorney. At which time she advised that she would like to consult with an attorney. Actually, she had an attorney waiting in the station lobby for her." Newman objected and moved for a mistrial. The trial court denied her motion and instead gave the jury the following curative instruction:

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