Drug task force lawsuit appealed to high court

March 09, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Stephen P. Bourexis -- the prominent Westminster defense attorney who saw Maryland's appellate courts uphold the dismissal of his $10.5 million lawsuit against the Carroll drug task force -- has taken his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Saying the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force violated several of his constitutional rights by refusing to "work with" some of his drug clients, Mr. Bourexis is asking the high court to reverse the Maryland Court of Appeals decision affirming Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s dismissal of his 1992 lawsuit.

The flamboyant -- and, until his voluntary suspension from law ends in June, unemployed -- defense attorney wants the Supreme Court to stop the task force from discriminating against any drug suspects on the basis of their attorneys. Mr. Bourexis is also asking for the chance to argue for monetary damages in the Carroll Circuit Court.

"This issue is critical to the independence of the defense bar," said Judith S. Stainbrook, Mr. Bourexis' partner and attorney in the case.

Mr. Bourexis, often a thorn in the task force's side, sued in Carroll Circuit Court in May 1992. His suit 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. Robert Heuisler and Westminster Police Sgt. Andrew McKendrick.

In dismissing the suit against all three defendants that September, Judge Beck said the task force "has full discretion" to decide whether to plea bargain with any defendant or defense attorney.

The Court of Special Appeals reluctantly upheld Judge Beck's decision last year. 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 the blackballing practice had hurt his law practice.

Maryland's Court of Appeals refused to hear Mr. Bourexis' appeal of that decision.

In his request to have his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Bourexis said the task force's practice of selectively working with drug defendants based on their lawyer was potentially damaging to the attorney-client privilege recognized by most states.

"The conduct that [Mr. Bourexis] seeks to redress subverts one of the most important relationships in the necessary tension between the rights of the individual and the authority of the state," the request says.

"If such conduct as that decried here is undeterred, that tension will inevitably be relaxed in favor of the already awesome VTC prosecutorial powers of the state."

Charles S. Fax, Sergeant McKendrick's lawyer, said yesterday that Mr. Bourexis' claims are groundless. "I don't think this kind of case merits the review of the Supreme Court," he said.

In an answer filed late last month, Mr. Fax wrote that Mr. Bourexis had no legal right to participate in plea negotiations.

"That, coupled with the absence of legally redressable harm to him flowing from the discretionary refusal of the task force to participate in plea negotiations with him in his capacity as defense counsel, makes this case unworthy of the court's attention."

Leo J. Ottey Jr., the assistant state attorney general representing the task force, could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the past, he, too, has argued that Mr. Bourexis' claims were groundless.

A decision on whether Mr. Bourexis' case will be considered by the court is expected before June.

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