Lawyer held in attack was police informant

May 03, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Susan M. Fila, the Baltimore lawyer charged with attempting to kill her law firm partner, was a drug informant for Baltimore police at the time of the alleged attack, a city police detective says.

Ms. Fila agreed to be an informant for police seeking information about West Baltimore's drug market to avoid being prosecuted for her arrest in July on heroin possession charges, according to the officer. State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said yesterday that he had learned during the course of the attempted murder investigation that Ms. Fila was working with police.

Under the agreement, Ms. Fila was to work with Tamme Lynn Newton of West Baltimore. Ms. Newton has been charged as an accomplice in the attack on Ms. Fila's law partner, Charles Lamasa, on April 14. Ms. Newton was also working as an informant, police said.

"We had an arrangement that they would provide us certain information. The arrangement was for Susan to have Tamme come through," said Sgt. Timothy Devine, the arresting officer when Ms. Fila was charged with possession.

"We were looking for a good house, guns or a dealer a couple of rungs up the ladder," said Sergeant Devine, a member of the Baltimore Violent Crimes Task Force. "Tamme and Susan didn't come through, so we were in the process of reopening [Ms. Fila's] case."

Ms. Newton lives on West Fayette Street, in an area notorious for open air drug dealing, and was one of Ms. Fila's heroin connections, Sergeant Devine said.

The two women did provide police with some information about illegal drug activity in West Baltimore, he said, but it was not considered consequential by investigators.

Officers were comfortable with the agreement with Ms. Fila because she had no prior arrests or a history of violent or criminal behavior, he said.

"She turned out to be like any other junkie. They promise you anything in shackles, and once they're out on the street they're just hoping you forget about them. But I didn't forget about them. My target for reopening the case was June 1 if they didn't come through. I marked it on my calendar," said Sergeant Devine.

Contacted through administrators at the Baltimore City Detention Center's facility for women, Ms. Newton declined to comment. Ms. Fila is being held on $1 million bail. Her attorney, Gerard Martin, declined to comment.

Both women are charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Charles Lamasa, whom Ms. Fila and Ms. Newton allegedly attacked, said yesterday that he was unaware that Ms. Fila was a heroin addict or that she had been arrested last July and had agreed to become a police informant. Mr. Lamasa did say that police told him two days after the alleged attack that Ms. Fila was an informant.

Notification of panel in doubt

It is unclear whether the Attorney Grievance Commission had been notified of Ms. Fila's arrest or heroin addiction. The commission is the disciplinary body for lawyers in Maryland and has authority to revoke and suspend licenses to practice.

"We would certainly want to know about a lawyer with a serious drug addiction who had been charged with heroin possession. It calls into serious question their fitness to represent clients and practice law," said Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission.

It is also unclear whether the judge who presided over the hearing when the state agreed not to prosecute the case -- Baltimore District Judge Kathleen M. Sweeney -- was aware that Ms. Fila was an attorney. Ms. Fila represented herself.

Baltimore District Judge H. Gary Bass, who presided over the two hearings at which Ms. Fila's case was postponed, said he was aware that she was a lawyer. He said he vaguely recalls being told by prosecutors that Ms. Fila was an attorney with a heroin addiction and that she had agreed to attend a drug rehabilitation program.

Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Timothy Murry handled Ms. Fila's possession case. He could not be reached.

Records are confidential

Mr. Hirshman said that because of the confidentiality of the commission's investigative records, he could not say whether anyone had ever reported Ms. Fila's drug possession case or her addiction.

He said the grievance commission has the authority to question lawyers who may have known about a lawyer's misconduct but did not report it.

"We would want to know why they didn't report it," he said.

Mr. Simms said he did not know whether prosecutors advised the Attorney Grievance Commission of Ms. Fila's situation but that he does not believe they would have been obligated to do so.

"It's far from clear in this circumstance that the prosecutor was obligated to report the individual," he said. "There was no conviction, so it would raise an ethical dilemma as to whether to report."

Mr. Simms said Mr. Murry told him that Ms. Fila received no special consideration because she was a lawyer. Mr. Simms said Mr. Murry agreed not to prosecute Ms. Fila, based on the recommendation of police.

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