Attorney sees victory in ruling Drug task force warned by judges

June 07, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Although the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the dismissal of his $10.5 million lawsuit against Carroll's drug task force, Westminster attorney Stephen P. Bourexis is nevertheless ecstatic over the court's ruling.

"This absolutely is a victory, a victory for defendants and their lawyers," the prominent drug attorney said yesterday. "What they say in that decision will go far to protect all defense lawyers in this state."

In a published decision last week, a three-judge panel of the state's second highest court affirmed Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s dismissal of Mr. Bourexis' lawsuit, in which the defense lawyer claimed his practice was suffering because the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force refused to "work with" his clients.

While the judges struck a likely fatal blow to the Bourexis lawsuit, they issued a blistering warning to the task force. The panel called the task force's refusal to work with defendants -- based solely on their defense lawyers -- dangerously close to "discrimination."

Since the suit was filed, the task force has maintained that, because no one is guaranteed a constitutional right to plea bargain, it can work with anyone it wants to.

"This is a thin strand, indeed, on which to hang the heavy notion that it is permissible for prosecutors and police officers to engage in categorical discrimination based on who the defendant's lawyer happens to be," Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote in the 15-page opinion handed down Thursday.

Mr. Bourexis, a frequent thorn in the task force's side, filed the lawsuit in Carroll Circuit Court last May. His complaint contended that the drug enforcement group blackballed Mr. Bourexis' clients from becoming informants or entering plea negotiations.

Mr. Bourexis had sought damages against the task force and two of its officers, state police Tfc. Richard Heuisler and Westminster Police Sgt. Andrew McKendrick.

In dismissing the suit against all three defendants in September, Judge Beck said the task force "has full discretion" to decide whether or not to plea bargain with any defendant or defense attorney.

The Court of Special Appeals reluctantly upheld Judge Beck's decision. The panel didn't reverse it, the appellate judges said, because they believe the task force is an entity that cannot be sued, that the police officers were immune from suit and that Mr. Bourexis failed to show that the blackballing practice had hurt his law practice.

"In short, [Mr. Bourexis] has alleged conduct that may be wrongful to others but none that has wronged him," Judge Wilner wrote. "It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that we affirm" Judge Beck.

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who is on the task force's advisory board, welcomed the appellate court's ruling.

"We're always looking for guidance on how to operate," he said yesterday.

Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, the task force coordinator, said yesterday he has not read the ruling.

But he said the suit's dismissal "supports our proposition that the task force should not be run by the defense bar or defendants."

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