State v. Dickman, AC 33781

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Decision Date24 September 2013
Docket NumberAC 33781


AC 33781


Argued April 22, 2013
Officially released September 24, 2013

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Alvord, Sheldon and Harper, Js.

(Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of
Hartford, geographical area number fourteen,
Carbonneau, J.)

Daniel M. Erwin, with whom was Norman A. Pattis, for the appellant (defendant).

Rocco A. Chiarenza, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Kevin T. Kane, chief state's attorney, and Marcia A. Pillsbury, deputy assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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HARPER, J. The defendant, Priscilla C. Dickman, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of four counts of forgery in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-139.1 On appeal, the defendant claims: (1) there was insufficient evidence upon which to convict her of forgery in the second degree under § 53a-139 (a) (1); (2) the court improperly admitted documents under the business records exception to the hearsay rule; and (3) the state violated the defendant's due process rights under the state and federal constitutions by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

This case arises from an underlying investigation into the authentication of documents allegedly submitted by the defendant to the benefits unit of the human resources office of her employer, the University of Connecticut Health Center (health center). The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant was the chief steward for one of the unions at the health center. She suffered from a disability and, consequently, received workers' compensation benefits and was subject to workplace restrictions including a four day work week. In April, 2005, Margaret Swets, a human resource associate at the health center, approached Karen Duffy Wallace, the director of labor relations at the health center, to raise a concern about the authentication of a doctor's note in the defendant's medical file. The note was purportedly authored and signed by Micha Abeles, a physician at the health center, indicating that the defendant would be unable to work on March 4, 2005. The note looked like it had been altered, so Wallace asked Swets to gather the defendant's entire medical file to compare the various documents therein.

Wallace discovered another doctor's note that was virtually identical to the first note, indicating that the defendant would be unable to work on October 4, 2004. A comparison of the two notes revealed what appeared to be a label placed over the date of October 4, 2004, on the former note and the date of March 4, 2005, substituted in its place on the latter note. In addition, in the place on the latter note that indicated the date of injury, the date of January 16, 2005, was added above the original date of injury of October 19, 1979, which appears alone on the former note. In all other respects, such as writing style and wording, the two notes were virtually identical.

After discovering the discrepancies between the two doctor's notes, Wallace asked Swets to take a closer look at the defendant's medical file to see if there was anything else that had some questionable aspect to it. Wallace was provided with two other documents pur-

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portedly signed by Abeles and two documents purportedly signed by Paul Tortland, a physician practicing in Avon and Glastonbury. The two documents purportedly signed by Abeles were a state family medical leave or employee fitness for duty certification form (fitness for duty form) and a medical certificate. The two documents purportedly signed by Tortland were worker status reports. The two worker status reports were both dated February 1, 2005, with identical writing style and wording as to the provider's name, provider's location, provider's signature, date, and license number, but with different content.

Wallace then asked Jessica Van Alstyne, the benefits supervisor at the health center, to contact the two physicians to verify the authenticity of the respective documents. Van Alstyne sent separate facsimiles of the respective documents to Abeles and Tortland, and asked them to confirm whether they had authored and signed them. Abeles, via e-mail, confirmed that the three documents in question had been approved by him. Tort-land was contacted by Officer Gary Loomis of the health center's police department and, with respect to the worker status reports, Tortland indicated that the signatures on both documents appeared to be identical, leading him to suspect that there had been a ''cut and paste.''

After Van Alstyne reported to Wallace, Wallace contacted the department of public safety at the health center and spoke with the Chief of Police Neil Sullivan. They decided to interview Abeles on May 9, 2005. Wallace then decided to interview the defendant on May 19, 2005, together with Swets and Van Alstyne. Wallace presented the defendant with the four forms from Abeles and asked her questions. The defendant indicated that the first note was a draft and was intended to be sent to Abeles, but that she accidentally sent this note via facsimile to Swets. The defendant was very detailed and cooperative at this point, but when Wallace presented the defendant with the two forms from Tort-land, the defendant seemed shocked and surprised, answered a couple of questions, and then ended the interview. Later that day, the defendant indicated to Wallace that she had to fill out many forms from Tort-land herself because the office staff would not fill out the forms for her.

Subsequent thereto, the defendant was arrested on March 29, 2007. The defendant was charged by substitute amended long form information with four counts of forgery in the second degree in violation of § 53a-139 (a) (1). Counts one through four concerned, respectively, one of the worker status reports, the doctor's note indicating that the defendant would be unable to work on March 4, 2005, the fitness for duty form, and the medical certificate. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all the charges. A jury trial followed on March 21, 2011, and continued until March 24, 2011.

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At trial, the four Abeles documents and the two Tort-land documents were submitted into evidence along with a certificate for return to work purportedly signed by Tortland. Abeles testified that the doctor's note authorizing the defendant to miss work on October 4, 2004, had been authored and signed by him, but the doctor's note authorizing the defendant to miss work on March 4, 2005, had not been authored or signed by him but, rather, was submitted without his authorization after the dates were altered from the previous doctor's note. He also testified that he did not fill out the fitness for duty form and that the signature on the bottom of the form was not his. He further testified that he never saw the medical certificate, which was not authored or signed by him. When asked about the e-mail he previously had sent to Swets indicating that the three documents in question had been approved by him, Abeles suggested that he had been trying to protect the defendant.

Tortland testified that there was nothing misleading about either worker status report, and that, where possible, he would have patients or his medical assistant fill out as much of the form as possible to relieve him from tedious clerical work. When asked about his previous statement to Loomis indicating that the signatures on both documents appeared to be identical, leading him to suspect that there had been a ''cut and paste,'' Tortland testified that he had felt intimidated at that meeting and did not have the opportunity to reflect on the full context in which those documents had been completed.

At the close of the state's case, the defendant filed motions for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Practice Book §§ 42-41 and 42-42, which were denied by the trial court. The jury found the defendant guilty on all of the charges. Thereafter, the...

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