Aron loses to Brock in court a 2nd time Judge throws out her bid to show juror misconduct

March 29, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A former CIA operative posing as an author questioned the jurors in Ruthann Aron's unsuccessful defamation suit, looking for clues that would help her win a new trial.

It backfired.

Not only did William Handford's claims of jury misconduct fail to win Ms. Aron a second chance to prove that William E. Brock defamed her, it led the judge to order her to pay Mr. Brock's legal expenses in the challenge.

Mr. Handford, a Washington-based private detective and 15-year CIA officer, filed an affidavit noting misconduct before and during the monthlong trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

The improprieties? One juror kept copious notes that he typed every evening and brought with him to court every day. Another chose Mr. Brock over Ms. Aron in the 1994 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who presided over Ms. Aron's defamation suit, held a brief hearing Tuesday before dismissing Ms. Aron's request.

"I've never seen such a disgruntled loser in all my life," said Mr. Brock's lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey.

Juror Stacey Beres confirmed that Mr. Handford told her he was gathering research for a book when he called her March 18.

"If he had told me who he was with, I don't think I would have talked to him," she said.

Ms. Aron sued Mr. Brock in November 1994, alleging that he defamed her by telling reporters that she had been "convicted" of fraud, and that he used radio and television advertisements to reinforce that message in the days before the primary.

Ms. Aron, a Montgomery County lawyer and real estate developer, had been sued twice by former business partners, and paid settlements to end the cases.

The jury of three women and three men deliberated six hours before deciding March 12 that Mr. Brock's statements were neither false nor defamatory.

Geoffrey Gitner, Ms. Aron's lawyer, said that use of private detectives is an accepted practice among litigators and that he did not know Mr. Handford was going to claim to be an author.

Other lawyers confirmed such tactics are common.

But experts on legal ethics said such practices create problems.

"It's sleazy, and I wouldn't do it," said Richard W. Bourne, who has taught legal ethics at the University of Baltimore Law School.

Mr. Gitner said that through Mr. Handford's investigation, he learned that Mrs. Beres had voted for Mr. Brock.

She failed to disclose that during the jury selection process when she was asked along with other potential jurors whether she knew Mr. Brock or Ms. Aron.

He said another juror, Harmon Bullard, should not have been allowed to take his notes home each night to type them. Mr. Bullard told reporters after the trial that he ended with 70 typed pages.

Mr. Gitner said Mr. Bullard's penchant for detail gave him undue influence over other jurors during deliberations.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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