Price can keep movie deal secret

March 15, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Ronald Price, the Anne Arundel County teacher convicted of sexually abusing three students, does not have to give the state a copy of his contract for a movie or television show about his life, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

The state's highest court ruled unanimously that Maryland's "Son of Sam" law, in requiring a criminal defendant to turn over any contract for his story on demand, would force him to admit criminal activity and violate his constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

"To require a criminal defendant to produce, before trial, a contract for a work related to the criminal act for which the defendant will be tried is simply inconsistent with public policy protecting the rights of the accused," Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy wrote.

The law -- named for New York serial killer David Berkowitz, who referred to himself as "Son of Sam" and prompted a public outcry in making a lucrative book deal -- is aimed at preventing criminals from profiting from their crimes.

Jonathan S. Resnick, one of Price's lawyers, said in June that his client had signed a deal with a Hollywood producer for a made-for-TV movie, but he has refused to name the producer or say how much the deal is worth.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. sought a court order in July requiring Price, before his trial had been held, to surrender the contract. But Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Mr. Curran appealed, leading to yesterday's decision weakening the law. The decision avoided the issue of the statute's constitutionality.

Judge Murphy said in the decision that the Son of Sam law may require a party who contracts with a defendant to surrender the agreement to the attorney general, but not the defendant himself. State authorities must figure out for themselves who bought the story rights.

Mr. Curran faxed a letter yesterday to Price's lawyers, Timothy F. Umbreit and Mr. Resnick, asking them to identify the producer who has the contract for their client's story. But Mr. Umbreit said he has no intention of complying, arguing that it would violate Price's right to free speech and his attorney-client privilege.

Under the state law, any proceeds from a book or movie rights would have to be deposited in a crime victims' fund. Mr. Curran said he "can only hope" that Price, 49, lives up to earlier statements made by his lawyers that any money he nets from a book or movie deal will be donated to his three victims -- who were students at Northeast High School in Pasadena.

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