Federal court rejects 'transparent ploy' by Price ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

August 10, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

A federal court refused yesterday to hear arguments that Ronald Walter Price's efforts to keep secret the contents of his sex-with-students movie contract have anything to do with the First Amendment, saying the case should not have been filed there in the first place.

In unusually strong language, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin called the effort to get the case moved to federal court "a transparent ploy" to delay action and threatened to fine the former Northeast High teacher's lawyers $2,500. They have 10 days to explain why they should not be sanctioned.

Declaring the filing was "completely unwarranted," Judge Smalkin also ordered Jonathan Resnick and Timothy Umbreit, Mr. Price's lawyers, to pay any fees and court costs incurred by Maryland's attorney general.

Judge Smalkin then sent the case back to Anne Arundel Circuit Court, where Judge Eugene M. Lerner is expected to rule today.

"Although the court is sensitive of the need for a neutral federal forum when appropriate, it will not tolerate abuse of the removal statute," Judge Smalkin wrote, referring to a law that would allow the federal court to intervene.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has been trying for more than a month to review the contract to determine whether Mr. Price, charged in April with three counts of child sex abuse, would profit from his alleged crimes.

Under Maryland's "Son of Sam law" -- nicknamed for a New York serial killer of the 1970s -- it is illegal for someone accused of a crime to profit from selling the movie or book rights to his or her story.

Mr. Price's lawyers have contended that turning over the movie contract would violate their client's First Amendment right to free speech.

"This case is going to end up in the Supreme Court," said Mr. Resnick. "I still feel the case belongs in federal court. What occurred doesn't change anything. It's the first step along the way."

But Mr. Curran said the issue didn't involve the First Amendment at all.

"We're not trying to deny anyone any right to free speech," he said. "It's an issue of whether Maryland can enforce a law that deals with making sure the profits of a crime do not go to the person charged with committing the crime."

Mr. Curran wants to put any profits in escrow for Mr. Price's alleged victims.

Three young women, including a 16-year-old, stepped forward this spring to press charges against the former social studies teacher, each saying she had had an affair with him.

When he was arrested April 8, Mr. Price admitted having a sexual relationship with the 16-year-old, then told national television audiences watching "Geraldo!" and "A Current Affair" that he had had sexual relationships with eight students over a 20-year period.

Two graduates then stepped forward to say they had had relationships with Mr. Price while students at the Pasadena high school.

Mr. Price has pleaded insanity to two counts of child sex abuse, but not guilty to a third. His trial is set for Sept. 7.

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