Friday, March 9, 2007

Addison v. State (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed March 8, 2007. Opinion by Judge Timothy E. Meredith.

From an appeal of a pretrial order denying the defendant's motion for an ex parte hearing regarding pretrial use and disclosure of confidential records he had previously subpoenaed and reviewed in the trial court's chambers, the Court of Special Appeals granted the State's motion to dismiss this interlocutory appeal, on the grounds that the ruling below was not immediately reviewable under the collateral order doctrine.

On trial in Montgomery County for various counts of sexual offense and sexual abuse, Addison sought certain educational and health records for the alleged victim from the local public schools and the local Department of Health and Human Services, which request was opposed by those entities on privacy and confidentiality grounds. The trial court ordered that the requested records be made available for inspection in chambers by counsel for Addison, but prohibited any use or disclosure of them pending further court order.

After inspection of the materials, Addison's counsel moved to be heard ex parte on the justification for pretrial use by Addison of some of the materials, arguing that such proffers would require the disclosure of defense strategy and work product, and therefore should not be shared with the prosecution because, if shared, the disclosure would violate Addison's due process rights, the right not to self-incriminate and the right to effective assistance of counsel. The trial judge denied the motion, and Addison appealed.

The Court noted that, as a general principle, ex parte communication between one party and the judge are disfavored, except as permitted by law, with explicit restrictions on both judges and attorneys to avoid engaging in such. Addison had argued that the requested ex parte hearing was expressly authorized by law, even with no Maryland case or statute on point, by virtue of cases in other jurisdictions. The Court noted that such cases were distinguishable from the case at hand, since most involved hearings to determine whether an indigent defendant was entitled to payment by the state for expert psychiatric testimony, but did not decide the issue, since the case at hand was resolved on other grounds.

To be appealable, an order or judgment must ordinarily be final. Under Maryland law, there are only three limited exceptions to the final judgment requirement, the first being appeals from interlocutory orders specifically allowed by statute, the second being immediate appeals permitted under Maryland Rule 2-602, and the final being appeals allowed under the common law collateral order doctrine. Here, there was no claim that either of the first two applied, so if allowable, this appeal must qualify under the final exception.

To satisfy the collateral order doctrine, four elements must be found to exist. The order must conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue, be completely separate from the merits of the action, and be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. The Court noted that, in Maryland, the four elements are very strictly applied and interlocutory appeals sustained only in extraordinary circumstances. In the St. Joseph case, the scope of the collateral order doctrine had been limited to one very unusual situation, involving trial court orders permitting the deposition of high government decision makers.

The Court found none of the exceptions to apply in this case, noting that if Addison's arguments were adopted, many discovery disputes would be entitled to interlocutory appeal, a result counter to the stated formulation of the collateral order doctrine under Maryland law. Thus, the prosecution's motion to dismiss the appeal was granted, without resolving the ex parte hearing issue.

The opinion is available in PDF.

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