City lawyer is charged in attempt to kill partner

April 23, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

In a bizarre case that has shocked the city's legal community, a Baltimore attorney has been charged with hiring a hit man to kill her law partner in an apparent effort to cover up the theft of more than $10,000 from the firm, police said.

Susan Fila, 42, a malpractice specialist who graduated near the top of her class at the University of Baltimore law school, was rTC arrested Thursday night and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and theft over $300, according to court records.

Police said Ms. Fila plotted with an unknown man to kill Charles Lamasa, 46, her partner in the down town law firm Lamasa & Fila, at 1023 Cathedral St.

In the weeks before the attack that injured Mr. Lamasa, Ms. Fila had been forging her partner's signature on the law firm's checks so that she could finance several heroin binges, police said.

Detectives also are investigating claims that she may have drugged Mr. Lamasa, who fellow attorneys said had been appearing groggy and anemic for several days before the attack.

Mr. Lamasa was stabbed five times in the back, head and chest when the unidentified man jumped him from the back seat of Ms. Fila's car during a nightmarish car ride that began about 11 p.m. April 14.

He had just sat down in the front passenger seat of the car outside the law firm's office when the attacker began stabbing him, police said. Ms. Fila drove through downtown as the two men fought for control of the knife, they said.

Mr. Lamasa -- an athletically fit man who is about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds -- jumped into the back seat and was able to overpower the other man, taking the knife from him.

As he sat in the rear of the car holding the attacker at bay, Ms. Fila continued to drive aimlessly, police said.

Investigators said Mr. Lamasa remained bleeding in the back seat for 40 minutes while Ms. Fila drove past several hospitals, claiming to be in a state of hysteria.

Mr. Lamasa finally ordered her to pull over, then forced the attacker at knifepoint to drive him to Sinai Hospital in Northwest Baltimore while Ms. Fila rode as a passenger, police said.

After dropping off the wounded man, Ms. Fila and the attacker drove off together, police said. Police were still searching for the man last night.

Mr. Lamasa, a former Baltimore prosecutor, was treated and released. He said yesterday that the ordeal has left him shaken and incredulous.

"I'm happy to be alive," he said in a written statement he gave to the news media yesterday. "I feel fine. I'm working very hard to keep my practice running smoothly. I had no inkling that Ms. Fila was a heroin addict or was stealing money."

According to court records, Ms. Fila checked into Oakview Treatment Center in Ellicott City two days after the attack to be treated for heroin addiction. She stayed there for five days, the records say.

She was being held without bail last night at the Women's Detention Center.

Police said at least $10,000 -- and possibly as much as $50,000 -- had been stolen from the law practice in recent weeks and that Ms. Fila was becoming worried that her partner would discover the theft.

The news of her arrest astounded fellow attorneys, who said Ms. Fila and Mr. Lamasa had appeared to be compatible partners in a thriving law practice. An official in the law firm said Ms. Fila had been working there for about 18 months after several productive years at Janet & Strausberg in Pikesville.

Immediately after joining Mr. Lamasa, she brought several high-paying malpractice cases to the firm, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"She always appeared to be promising. She was a little eccentric, but very energized and bright. She certainly had contacts that helped bring malpractice cases to us," the official said.

Anton J. S. Keating, a private attorney who rents space in the Cathedral Street building where the Lamasa & Fila firm has its offices, said he still can't believe the alleged plot.

"I just keep pinching myself. Chuck came over my house last Friday after getting out of the emergency ward. It was difficult to absorb that he was supposed to be dead at the hands of Susan," he said.

"All I could picture was Chuck fighting for his life and her not helping, driving around acting like she didn't know where she was going. It must have been awful for him," Mr. Keating said.

He said Ms. Fila often worked weekends at the law office and never appeared to have been unhappy with her life or work. In her office, he said, she kept certificates showing she came in first in her law school class in "four or five different subjects -- a tremendous accomplishment."

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