Supreme Court rejects teacher-seduction case 'Gay rights' suit also turned down

October 13, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Pamela Smart, the high school instructor who used sex to entice a teen-age student to murder her husband and then became the subject of a steamy drama on television, failed to get the Supreme Court interested in her case yesterday.

The court also turned aside the first "gay rights" case to reach it in its new term, an unsuccessful appeal by a former Central Intelligence Agency employee who hid his homosexuality from his superiors for years and was fired when they found out.

In the Pamela Smart case, the court turned down the constitutional challenges she had raised to her conviction and life-without-parole sentence. She contended that an avalanche of publicity denied her a fair trial and that a secret monitoring device worn by a student assistant destroyed her lawyer's chances of helping her.

Smart's appeal cited "the explosive growth of media attention to the nation's trial courts," increasing the tension between press rights and the right to a fair trial. "The trial courts need guidance in dealing with this delicate balancing act," the appeal suggested.

Smart's trial was televised. The trial judge found that the jury had not been influenced by the intense, nationwide publicity about the 22-year-old media services director at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, N.H., and her 16-year-old lover, student William Flynn.

Flynn and a friend, Pete Randall, shot Smart's husband, Gregory, after Smart told the youth she would not continue having sex with him unless her husband were killed. The youths involved in the shooting death pleaded guilty.

Smart is now an inmate at the New York State Prison in Bedford Hills, N.Y.

In the gay rights case, an ex-CIA electronics technician identified only as "John Doe" contended that the agency has a flat policy against homosexuals on its payroll.

The CIA denied that and contended that "Doe" demonstrated he was a security risk by hiding his gay status for years. "Doe" answered by saying that no non-gay employee would be fired for hiding an extramarital affair, thus showing that he was a victim of discrimination. The court gave no explanation for rejecting his appeal, which also had been rebuffed in a lower court.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said yesterday that it would ask the Supreme Court to block, temporarily, a California federal judge's order forbidding the military services from taking any action against soldiers or sailors based solely on their status as gays or lesbians.

The judge's order, now being appealed by the Pentagon, has blocked the "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy that President Clinton worked out with the military and with congressional leaders. That policy was due to go into effect Oct. 1 but has been postponed in the wake of the new courtroom battle over it.

The Supreme Court issued these other orders yesterday:

* It agreed to hear the appeal of a Baltimore man, Darren J. Custis, who is now serving a 12-year prison sentence after being convicted under "Operation Triggerlock" -- a joint federal-local effort to crack down on gun use by felons. Custis was convicted of being a felon with a gun and of possessing cocaine.

Custis' appeal contends that his sentence was stiffened on the basis of earlier convictions in Maryland courts that involved violations of his constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin refused to hear those challenges and sentenced Custis to 235 months in prison as an "armed career criminal."

Custis was arrested in July 1991 by Baltimore police officers who showed up at a drug dealing site on Springhill Avenue and Towanda.

* The justices asked the Clinton administration to offer its views on a case that has produced formal complaints from the Canadian government -- a case involving two bounty hunters who went to Canada to seize a man and take him to Florida for trial on land fraud charges. The man, Sidney Jaffe, has twice fled from Florida when he faced criminal charges.

His wife, Ruth, won more than $1.5 million in damages in a Canadian court for his abduction, but Florida courts refuse to enforce that award because of her husband's actions as a fugitive.

* The court also agreed to decide whether the federal law that protects railroad workers from injury or death on the job is designed to assure them of an "emotionally safe" workplace. Lower federal courts are split on whether "emotional injury," without any actual physical injury, can lead to damages for on-the-job stress experienced by railway workers.

One of the new cases raising that issue involves a Pennsylvania man who suffered serious emotional difficulties after trying unsuccessfully to save a close friend and fellow crew member from a heart attack. He died after their work gang labored in 95-degree August heat to replace broken rails.

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