Saturday, September 28, 2002

Lawyer's fate in Supreme Court

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLUMBUS — The battle over obtaining information about the disappearance of Erica Baker, a 9-year-old Dayton-area girl missing since 1999, has moved to the Ohio Supreme Court.

        On Friday, attorneys from Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus asked the state's highest court to keep attorney Beth Lewis out of jail and to hear arguments on whether she — and other lawyers in Ohio — should be forced to break confidentiality of deceased clients under certain conditions.

        The case is of great general public interest and has “widespread and serious implications for all Ohio attorneys,” Ms. Lewis' lawyers wrote, urging the court to reconsider last week's “unprecedented opinion” of the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals.

        That court agreed with a Montgomery County judge who ordered Ms. Lewis jailed if she didn't testify about what her now-deceased client, Jan Marie Franks, may have revealed about Erica's fate. Ms. Lewis refused to comply. A June 25 order for her to be locked up remains on hold while the case goes through appeals.

        The Baker family had heard that Ms. Franks was among several occupants of a van that struck Erica while she was walking her dog near her home in Kettering, a Dayton suburb, on Feb. 7, 1999.

        But before the family could get Ms. Franks to cooperate, she died of a drug overdose in December. Her widower then signed a confidentiality waiver, authorizing Ms. Lewis to disclose conversations she had with Ms. Franks, invoking a previously untested 1953 Ohio law.

        The appeals court said the law, as written, requires Ms. Lewis to honor the waiver, even if doing so would conflict with her client's wishes.

        Erica's grandmother, Pam Schmidt, said authorities told her the

        court might take two to six months to decide whether to hear Ms. Lewis' case — and then the hearing would have to be scheduled, and a decision awaited.


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