Ray Lewis given access to rooms, parking spot

Meant to stem disruptions at courthouse, sheriff says

April 17, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens All-Pro linebacker accused in a civil suit of hitting two women in a Woodlawn tavern, was allowed to park in the sheriff's private parking space on the first day of his trial and was given access to private jury rooms.

Baltimore County Sheriff Anne K. Strasdauskas acknowledged that she allowed Lewis to park in her space Monday and escorted him to the third-floor courtroom to minimize disruptions as jury selection began in his trial.

Lewis is being sued for $6 million by two women, Catrice Hill and Sherita A. Williams, who say he hit them during a fight at the Windsor Inn in Woodlawn on Nov. 29, 1999. The suit was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Strasdauskas said she posted a deputy outside the courtroom and gave Lewis access to a jury room that was closed to the public because his attorney wanted to discourage autograph seekers and minimize disruptions.

Strasdauskas said she made the arrangements because Lewis is a celebrity and she did not want his presence to disrupt court proceedings.

"I needed to keep security issues at hand," she said.

Strasdauskas said a teen-ager approached Lewis at one point during the trial yesterday and had to be stopped by a deputy.

"What happened in the courtroom, we don't need those kinds of disruptions," she said.

Ethics experts say that although providing Lewis with a parking space might raise questions about preferential treatment, the sheriff is entitled to take steps that she feels are necessary to secure the courthouse.

"It makes sense to me," said Abraham A. Dash, a professor who teaches legal ethics at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Dash said that although "you and I wouldn't get that treatment," the sheriff has a duty to maintain security so there is a "certain legitimacy" to her actions.

"To avoid that sort of limited privilege wouldn't create a problem," Dash said.

Strasdauskas said she learned Friday afternoon that Lewis would be coming to the courthouse and arranged to meet him Monday morning in her office. As a courtesy, she said, she offered him her parking space for the first day of the trial.

She said that after showing Lewis to the courtroom, she left the courthouse to speak at a senior center. "I figured the parking space would be open anyway because I wasn't going to be in the building," she said.

The garage where Lewis parked is under the courts building and has a private entrance used by sheriff's deputies escorting prisoners to trials.

Lewis has been instructed by his attorney, Ronald M. Cherry, not to talk to reporters during the trial. He spent most of the time during breaks yesterday chatting with relatives, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom. He left the building for lunch and was driven to the courthouse by Cherry.

Strasdauskas said she offered a jury room to both lawyers in the Lewis case. She also has offered the rooms to lawyers in other high-profile cases, including the trials for three men convicted of killing county police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero.

Strasdauskas also acknowledged that about nine months ago she was given a Ravens T-shirt that was autographed by Lewis. She said she made clear to Ravens officials that the shirt was for a friend who was dying of cancer.

"If people think I'd do anything to jeopardize my credibility and reputation, they're crazy," she said.

Sun staff writer Maria Blackburn contributed to this article.

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