By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time
--NEW YORK - A Manhattan judge yesterday ordered a former lawyer for Michael Skakel to testify before a Connecticut grand jury investigating the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley, in which Skakel is a suspect.
In his ruling, state Supreme Court Judge Herbert Adlerberg noted that the testimony of attorney Thomas Sheridan Jr. is being sought by a Connecticut prosecutor in an attempt to challenge defense attorneys' claims that information pertaining to the Moxley case - obtained by private detectives while working for Sheridan - is not privileged and can be put before the grand jury.
"Any claim regarding a violation of the attomey-client privilege, if indeed there is one, is to be litigated in the demanding state, which has been held by the Court of Appeals to be the appropriate forum to adjudicate such claims," Adlerberg ruled. "Accordingly, Thomas Sheridan is directed to appear and testify before the grand jury."
Grand jury testimony of investigators with Jericho, N.Y-based Sutton Associates is being sought, according to an affidavit filed by a Connecticut prosecutor in Nassau County Court, because of possibly incriminating information they obtained while working for Sheridan and another attorney representing Michael Skakel's brother, Thomas, who also is a suspect. In the affidavit, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict alleges both Skakel brothers significantly changed the alibis they had given police in 1975 when questioned 18 years later by Sutton Associates investigators. According to the affidavit, the revised stories placed the suspects either with Moxley or near the crime scene at or about the time police said the 15-year-old girl was murdered with a golf club, which was owned by the Skakel family.
James Murphy, who owns Sutton Associates, and Willis Krebs, Murphy's former employee both have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, but lawyers representing Sheridan, Sutton Associates and the Skakel brothers are seeking to block their testimony in Nassau' County Court.
Although Adlerberg yesterday set a date of Jan. 8 for Sheridan's grand jury appearance, he also issue a 3O-day stay on his own order to give lawyers representing Sheridan and Skakel an opportunity to appeal.
Long Island attorney Robert Gottlieb, who represented both Skakel brothers at yesterday's hearing, said Adlerberg"s decision would be appealed.
"It is abhorrent that an attorney is even subject to having to testify against his own client, so I'm forever optimistic that reason and our constitution will prevail.," Gottlieb said.
In an interview yesterday, Benedict said he did not want Sheridan before the grand jury to be questioned about his relationship with Michael Skakel, but rather to clarify the confidentiality matter.
"We are seeking Mr. Sheridan's testimony in order to help us settle the existence of an attomey-client privilege," the prosecutor said. "I don't know if it exists. And if there is a privilege, we need to determine who has it'"
Sheridan represented Michael Skakel from 1976 until shortly after a Moxley grand jury was convened this past June. He previously explained he hired Sutton, Associates in 1992 to investigate the Moxley murder and his client's possible involvement in preparation for a possible criminal defense. The following year, in 1993, the agency was retained for the same purpose by Stamford attorney Emmanuel Margolis, who has represented Thomas Skakel since 1976.
A ruling on whether Murphy must comply with the Connecticut subpoena is pending in Nassau County, another concerning Kreb's subpoena is pending in Suffolk County, N. Y.
Manhattan attorney Norman Bloch, who represents Sheridan, questioned the timing of Adlerberg's ruling.
"If, in the end, Murphy and Krebs are not required to go testify, then what are we doing here?" he said. "(Sheriden's) testimony would seem to be a moot at that point.