Local councelors concerned about ruling in Moxley case.
By Thomas Mellana Staff Writer

A judge's order forcing a drug rehabilitation center owner to testily in a Greenwich murder investigation does not render patients' private lives up for grabs, local counselors said last week.

But some said it is a sign information is not as protected as it used to be.

A state Superior Court judge ruled this month that testimony about a suspects alleged admissions made Maine as evidence by a grand jury investigating the 1975 slaying.

The judge further ruled the owner of, the center had to give the grand jury any knowledge he has of any admissions.

Doctors and therapists this week said anything that seems to chip away at doctor-patient confidentiality is a cause for concern.

That erosion in confidence erodes in doctors and nurses," said Dr. Richard Frances, medical director and CEO of Silver Hill Hospital, a treatment facility in New Canaan. "And a good part of what we need to build up in order to help people is trust."

But programs that provide patients treatment are protected by federal and state confidentiality laws said John Sayers, admissions coordinator of the Recovery Program at Greenwich Hospital. Although it can happen, as in the Elan case, it is not easy to overturned, he said. .

Strict criteria in the federal legislation, which usually takes precedence, make it rare for prosecutors and other law enforcement officers to gain access to records or testimony about a patient's stay at a treatment facility, he said.

That does not reassure a privilege specialist who argued against forcing the rehab facility owner to testify Linda Kenney has been retained in this case on behalf of Michael Skakel, the former Greenwich resident who prosecutors say may have made "admissions" about the Moxley killing while recovering at the Elan School in the late 1970's. Skakel was admitted to Elan as a condition of dismissal of a drunken driving charge.

"In this day and age, when we have so many people with drug and alcohol abuse problems, to do anything to discourage people from getting treatment goes against the grain of tying to help these people," Kenney said.

Psychiatrists have a duty to warn authorities if a serious crime is about to be committed and are legally obligated to report instances of suspected child abuse. But they do not function as law enforcement agents. Current federal law states that to obtain a patient's records, prosecutors must show the crime in question was severe; the records or testimony they seek is likely to contain certain information; there is no practical other way of retrieving the information; and the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs the patient's right to privacy. Also taken into consideration is the program's ability to provide services to other patients.

Several former residents and staff members of Elan School have testified before the grand jury examining the murder, but defense attorneys for Skakel have argued the testimony should be barred as evidence because any statements he may have Made there were protected.

Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink this month ruled it was not and compelled Ricci to testify. Ricci had refused to answer questions during an appearance before the grand jury Sept. 21.

Skakel's attorneys immediately filed a motion to stay the order until it could be appealed.

Skakel, 15 at the time of the murder, and his older brother Thomas, then 17, are suspects in the murder, which occurred Oct. 30, 1975. The 15- year-old Moxley was beaten and stabbed to death with a golf club police said came from a set of clubs owned by the Skakel family, her neighbors.

The brothers have maintained their innocence.