"Attorneys Claim Skakel's Rights Violated"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time, Feb. 27, 1999
Michael Skakel's constitutional rights were violated by the state's two-decade
delay in obtaining records of his stay at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation
center, where he allegedly made admissions to the 1975 Martha Moxley murder,
according to court documents filed yesterday by Skakel's attorneys.
In a brief to the state Appellate Court, attorneys also argue that a Superior
Court judge erred in previously ruling that testimony of former residents and
staff members of the rehab center could be considered as evidence by a grand
jury investigating the unsolved Moxley murder. In addition, the brief states
that the judge erred when he ruled that Elan School was not a mental health
facility and therefore anything said at the rehab center was not protected by
the doctor-patient privilege.
If the grand jury probing the Moxley murder since June can consider this
disputed evidence, the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment programs would
be severely damaged, the appeals brief states.
Prosecutors have 30 days to respond with their own brief.
The appeal of Judge Edward Stodolink's December ruling against Skakel's request
for an injunction to block Elan School-related testimony from the grand jury
"raises issues of great importance concerning the privacy protection accorded to
Connecticut citizens who seek treatment for substance abuse problems," New Haven
attorneys William F. Dow III and David F. Grudberg state in the brief. "If
allowed to stand, the trial court's ruling threatens to diminish the
effectiveness of substance abuse programs such as Elan, as well as other similar
forms of therapy increasingly in demand by our citizenry, which depend heavily
on a therapeutic atmosphere of trust and confidence."
Skakel was admitted to Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, in 1978 after his
arrest for a drunken driving incident in which he attempted to run down a police
officer before crashing his car in Windham, N.Y. The grand jury convened in
Bridgeport last June is seeking testimony of former Elan School residents and
staff members because prosecutors believe Skakel made "admissions" about the
Moxley murder before being released from the program in 1980.
Michael Skakel and his brother, Thomas, are the only identified suspects in the
Moxley murder. Both were with the victim the night she was slain on Oct. 30,
1975, and police identified the murder weapon as a 6-iron from a set of golf
clubs owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street from the Moxleys.
In their brief, Dow and Grudberg fault prosecutors for attempting to find out
what may have happened at the rehab center two decades after the fact. "It is
axiomatic that the United States Constitution forbids the deprivation of life,
liberty or property without due process of law," the brief states. "In this
case, the state waited nearly 20 years after (Skakel's) departure from Elan
before initiating proceedings to obtain records and other testimony about his
treatment .(and) by virtue of its own delay, and the resulting prejudice to
(Skakel's) ability to present relevant evidence, the state has obtained
confidential communications and records for use in the grand jury against Mr.
Skakel. This violates (Skakel's) due process rights, and should be prohibited."
The attorneys also say that when ruling against Skakel's privacy claim,
Stodolink wrongly applied current federal regulations for therapy programs
rather than what applied at the time of the suspect's treatment. "This ruling
was incorrect, as it violated traditional precepts of law, and robbed (Skakel)
of the privacy he legitimately had a right to expect during his 1978-80 stay at
Elan," according to the brief. "Had the contemporaneous regulations been
applied, the state should only have been allowed access to objective data
concerning Skakel's Elan treatment."
Objective data, as defined by 1978 federal regulations, would include such
information as a patient's admission and discharge dates and medication he
received, according to Skakel's lawyers. "Put otherwise, the trial court's broad
order allowing inquiry into conversations with Michael Skakel at Elan should be
reversed," the brief states.
The final issue in the appeal regards Stodolink's ruling that Elan School was
not a mental health facility, which releases Skakel's statements at Elan from
protection under doctor-patient privilege. Although Stodolink said Elan School
held a conditional Maine license as a mental health facility from August 1979 to
February 1980, he said it did not meet Connecticut's definition of a mental
health facility because none of its staff was a license professional.
Skakel's attorneys say in making his ruling, the judge wrongly relied on the
fact that Elan School's medical director was not at the facility on a daily
basis. "The court's analysis was seriously flawed, and based on an overly narrow
view of the mental health field," the brief states. "Likewise, its emphasis on
the presence or absence of (the medical director) ignored uncontroverted
evidence that the program was run under his supervision and control. Under these
circumstances, the (doctor-patient) privilege should have applied."