Court psychiatrist gets McLean's medical file

June 04, 1994|By Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

In a move that a defense attorney criticized as invasive, a private mental hospital was ordered to release Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's records yesterday to a court psychiatrist who will determine whether she is competent to stand trial next week.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. ordered the review of the indicted comptroller's records at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital -- where she has been treated for depression for more than four months -- over the objection of her lawyers.

"This is an absurdity. This is invasive," attorney M. Cristina Gutierrez said. "The specter of others getting access to those records inhibits [Mrs. McLean's] willingness to participate in her treatment."

She also argued that the review would violate Mrs. McLean's right to confidentiality and would not provide an accurate picture of her current mental state.

After Sheppard Pratt released the medical file yesterday, the hospital's lawyer, Susan Sugar Nathan, said a court order is one of a limited number of conditions under which a patient's records may be released without consent.

She added, "This isn't rare. This is something that happens rather routinely."

Mrs. McLean, who is charged with theft and misconduct in office, attempted suicide with a near-fatal overdose of prescription pills and alcohol in April. Her attorneys have said she has a long history of depression.

The comptroller, who rose from political obscurity to a City Council seat and from there to the third highest office in Baltimore, is accused of stealing more than $25,000 by having a fictitious employee on her payroll and of steering a $1 million city lease to a family-owned building.

She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Court psychiatrist Thomas Oglesby is to issue a report Monday on whether Mrs. McLean is competent to stand trial.

Judge McCurdy wants to review psychiatric findings before he decides whether to delay the trial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Mrs. McLean's defense lawyers have requested a three-month postponement, citing her continued hospitalization and the risk of suicide.

Maryland's special prosecutor, pressing to keep the trial on track, requested an independent psychiatric evaluation two weeks ago to determine whether Mrs. McLean, 50, understands the charges against her and can participate in her defense.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli described his request as simple procedural step in the wake of published accounts of Mrs. McLean's depression and suicide attempt.

"I thought it was proper to do so before trial," he said.

However, Ms. Gutierrez angrily labeled his request a "fishing expedition" and said it was "extraordinary" for the state to raise the issue of competency when her client had not.

A law professor's opinion

Abraham A. Dash, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the prosecutor's request for a competency review is unusual but not unprecedented.

"If the government has reason to believe [competency] may be an issue that may come up on appeal, the government may want to get it resolved."

Last Friday, Ms. Gutierrez told the judge she would advise her client to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and decline to answer any questions by the court psychiatrist.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Dr. Oglesby, Judge McCurdy noted that the evaluation could proceed without an interview with Mrs. McLean.

Ms. Gutierrez then tried to prevent the release of the comptroller's medical records. She also failed to persuade the judge to postpone the evaluation while she appealed his decision to make the records available.

Under yesterday's court order, Dr. Oglesby was allowed to read but not copy Mrs. McLean's records.

Ms. Gutierrez said Dr. Oglesby was instructed not to share the information with anyone except the judge. The court psychiatrist did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Gutierrez noted that if Mrs. McLean is ruled incompetent she would likely remain under treatment at Sheppard Pratt until her condition improves -- exactly what she is seeking in her request for a postponement in the trial.

"We believe that, notwithstanding [Mrs. McLean's] serious mental illness, she meets the criteria for competency. However, if Dr. Oglesby says she is not competent, we have no intention of fighting that," the lawyer said.

Mrs. McLean went on an indefinite leave of absence in late December amid allegations that she was sending checks to a phantom employee called Michele McCloud and to an nonexistent women's organization. A month later, she was admitted to Sheppard Pratt for treatment of severe depression.

On the night of April 14, two months after she was indicted by a city grand jury on charges of felony theft and misconduct, Mrs. McLean attempted suicide. She was rushed to Union Memorial Hospital and readmitted to Sheppard Pratt two days later.

Lawyer's efforts

For the past two months, Mrs. McLean's lawyer has been trying to work out arrangements with the state prosecutor to spare her client prison time and to keep her in Sheppard Pratt. She won a two-week extension of the comptroller's city health benefits and then arranged for three more months of treatment at Sheppard Pratt.

Ms. Gutierrez also has been trying to build public compassion for the comptroller by portraying her as a successful black woman who suffered from the pressures of political life and a mental illness.

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