Appellate Courts Should Back Judge Lebow’s Ruling
By Norm Kent
In an emergency relief motion filed late last week, the Florida Attorney General's Office claims Circuit Judge Susan Lebow overstepped her bounds when she punished two prosecutors for listening to taped phone conversations between murder defendant Luis O. Martinez and his attorney. How did this day come about?
About two years ago, local papers ran a story that law enforcement, with all its spare time, wanted to have its staff spend their evenings listen to phone calls from inmates at the county jail. Apparently, COPS and Larry King were not enough for them. Notices were dutifully posted and the cruel process of intervention and invasion into the sanctity of attorney client privilege was commenced under lawful pretenses.
The right column sidebar of this blog features an eye-popping video of Andy Griffith and Opie. Let me tell you why it is there. The episode was about a bank robbery in Mayberry. The suspect was in custody. Opie tried to help out Andy. Thus, before the defendant’s attorney met with his client in the jail, Opie secretly placed a tape recorder to listen in on the conversation. After the lawyer left, Opie retrieved the tape recorder to play it for Andy. Watch what happens when this Sheriff is presented with that evidence.
Ladies and gentlemen of the law, of this courthouse, there are few things as sacred as the nature of the attorney client privilege. When I showed this tape to Chris Grillo, the defense attorney in this case, he remarked that he wished he had it to display for Judge Lebow during his closing arguments on this sorry episode.
We are talking about a fundamental right of jurisprudence, an essential ingredient of the adversary system, a cornerstone of justice. Too many years of Ronald Reagans and forfeiture acts have jaded us. We need to return to the Zen of truth.
Martinez, 43, is on trial for the slaying of a Lighthouse Pointe man in 2003. The trial was near completion when the judge halted it in October. She acted after Grillo claimed state attorneys had listened to privileged conversations mistakenly taped at the Broward jail during the trial. The conversations were between Grillo and Martinez.
The defense sought a dismissal, the most serious sanction. Judge Lebow said no, that is too much. Instead, she chastised the prosecutors for inappropriate conduct and disqualified the entire State Attorney's Office from trying the case. It is nicer than I would have been. I would have flogged the prosecutors and one used to share space with me in my law office.
I have not followed the case so closely as to understand whether the discovered evidence was consequential or immaterial. While that is relevant in fashioning an appropriate judicial remedy, I am more concerned in those procedures which set into motion the techniques that now 'inadvertently' but invariably invade the privacy of inmates and their attorneys. Think about it. There must already be some probable cause and proof of guilt to detain them; some credible evidence which warranted their incarceration. Otherwise, theoretically, they would not be in jail
Let the State of Florida then prove their case with the evidence which warranted that detention in the first place. You see, the incarceration is already a penalty that is being exacted by the State. Seek not to enrich your prosecution by using the tools of chicanery and deception. Seek to find ways instead to protect the integrity of those first ten amendments we call the Bill of Rights.
If I were on the appellate court that would be the message I would send to the State Attorney, the Sheriff, and law enforcement. In doing so, I would affirm Judge Lebow’s ruling, which is the least innocuous penalty that should be exacted for ‘inadvertently’ trespassing on the Constitution of the United States of America.