Lawyers' letters to continue, for now Edgewater woman says she will keep mailing solicitation notes

December 06, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

The woman whose company triggered the furor over unserved criminal warrants isn't about to apologize -- or back down.

Natalie M. Boehm says she has not walked away from tough fights before, and isn't going to give in to police, prosecutors and judges now.

To drive home her point, she met a reporter yesterday at the Court of Appeals building in Annapolis, which ultimately may decide the fate of her business, LETS Co. of Edgewater.

LETS mails lawyers' solicitation letters to potential clients: people newly named in arrest warrants that LETS screens through publicly accessible computerized court records. About 10,000 letters have gone out since January, and some have gotten to suspects before police did, tipping off potentially dangerous people who might flee and destroy evidence.

If police had ever asked her not to mail letters until warrants were served, "I would have stopped mailing letters," Boehm said. "But they didn't, so I'm going to fight that decision and any others."

On Thursday, citing dangers to police, the chief judge of the Maryland District Court said she would block computer access to unserved arrest warrants statewide. And another judge said he would like to close all access to unserved warrants, even paper records in courthouses.

Boehm casts herself as a pioneer, a trailblazer for women and lawyers. After careers that included driving tractor-trailers, she is a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore.

"I'm a person who makes a difference," she said yesterday, striding purposefully through the court building. "That's why I want to be a lawyer. I've been successful defending myself against government intrusion for years. A lawyer can do that for other people."

She said she sued a former employer for sexual harassment. Last year, she successfully sued to overturn a new law that would have harmed LETS by restricting lawyers' solicitations.

"I believe I've changed the practice of law in Maryland," said Boehm. "When you're at the cutting edge of something pioneers get all the arrows."

Boehm's clients said her company provides a valuable service.

"I'm able to help out a heck of a lot of people who don't know how the system works," said Baltimore attorney Craig Garfield. "Natalie, she's a tough broad, a crazy person, but she works hard, is reliable."

Garfield, along with another attorney in his office, usually mails about 400 letters per week to traffic offenders through LETS Co.

Columbia attorney Gregory Nugent said he intends to keep using Boehm's service, despite the uproar caused by a solicitation letter from him that arrived at the home of a man suspected of murdering an Ellicott City woman in 1985.

But Nugent, a former Illinois prosecutor who started practicing criminal defense law here this summer, said that this week he asked Boehm to mail letters only to those under arrest.

"I feel bad about what's happened," Nugent said. "But Natalie's service is an effective way to reach potential clients."

Yesterday, Boehm, walking into the courtroom and eyeing the giant doors and intricate ceiling, reiterated she wasn't fighting for herself, but for defendants who need lawyers.

Boehm might end up taking on one of her favorite professors, Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Murphy, who said he has been following the issue of lawyers' letters sent to criminal suspects, decided this week to initiate a process to close access to unserved arrest warrants.

Murphy knows about Boehm's work ethic after teaching her at law school last summer.

"She was well-prepared, a good student, asked good questions, did well on the exam, I recall," said Murphy. "Her discussions about her litigation brought me up to speed."

In 1996, Boehm, along with Bethesda attorney Robin Ficker, sued to overturn a state law that sought to ban lawyer solicitation of criminal clients within 30 days of an arrest.

Boehm won her suit in federal court, a decision affirmed by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Moving among the stacks of books of the court library, Boehm stopped and removed a volume that contained the July Appeals Court decision of her case. She read her favorite passage aloud, then said:

"It's the first time I ever saw that in a book. I did it. I'm a 46-year-old woman who owns a small business and got a law in Maryland overturned as unconstitutional.

"It's a beautiful opinion."

Pub Date: 12/06/97

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