"Skakel Lawyers Appeal Ruling on 'Confession' Testimony"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer
Attorneys representing murder suspect Michael Skakel yesterday gave formal
notice that they were appealing a Superior Court judge's ruling that
incriminating statements prosecutors allege Skakel made can be used as evidence
by the grand jury investigating the 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager Martha
The filing in state Superior Court in Bridgeport came less than a week after the
judge who made the disputed ruling was issued a "writ of error" by lawyers
representing the Maine drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation center, where
prosecutors allege Skakel made "admissions" concerning Moxley's murder.
The writ, filed Thursday against Judge Edward Stodolink, guarantees the appeal
by the Elan School rehabilitation center will be heard by the state Supreme
Court. It will be at the Supreme Court's discretion, however, whether it will
hear Skakel's appeal of Stodolink's ruling. But attorneys for Skakel and Elan
School said they believed both actions will be taken up by the high court
because they involve issues that are intricately linked.
"I think both matters will be heard by the Supreme Court since they were tried
(by Stodolink) at the same time," said attorney John Campbell, who represents
Poland Spring, Maine-based Elan School, as well as the rehab center's owner,
"It is our hope the Supreme Court will hear the case rather than go through the
intermediary step involving the Appellate Court," said David Grudberg, whose New
Haven law firm of Jacobs Grudberg Belt & Dow was retained for the appeal by
Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman.
Sherman, who was vacationing yesterday in Aspen, Colo., said in a telephone
interview that his client's appeal should not be seen as a ploy to keep
incriminating information from authorities, but rather to uphold the rights of
people to talk openly and confidentially while undergoing substance abuse
"Obviously, we feel all the communications are privileged and the judge is
wrong," Sherman said. "But the issue is that important that it is appropriate we
appeal, even though there still exists no smoking gun in this body of evidence."
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who is assisting the Moxley grand jury, did
not return calls to his office yesterday. His lead investigator on the case,
Inspector Frank Garr, said it was "not surprising" Stodolink's rulings were
appealed. "It was expected," Garr said.
Several former residents and staff members of Elan School have testified before
the grand jury that has been probing the 23-year-old murder case, and defense
attorneys had contended the testimony should be barred as evidence because any
statements they may have heard Skakel make during his 1978-80 stay at Elan
School were protected by the doctor-patient privilege.
Attorneys representing Skakel, Ricci and Elan School made their arguments during
an open-court hearing held as the result of Ricci's refusal to answer the grand
jury's questions. The hearing was convened upon Benedict's application for an
order compelling Ricci's testimony. During the proceeding, Stodolink also heard
arguments from attorneys representing Skakel, who filed for an injunction
blocking all testimony regarding Skakel's stay at Elan School.
Stodolink, however, said in his Dec. 10 ruling he had not been presented with
any evidence indicating Skakel received psychiatric care at Elan, where he said
treatment largely involved peer-pressure techniques and group meetings run by
Elan residents, and therefore the doctor-patient privilege did not apply. In
addition to allowing the grand jury to consider Elan School testimony as
evidence, Stodolink ordered Ricci to testify.
If Stodolink's ruling on the privilege issue went the other way, the grand jury
would have been ordered to disregard any testimony pertaining to Elan School,
and Ricci would not have to testify.
In the writ of error, attorneys claim Stodolink's ruling not only violated the
rights of recovering substance abusers, but disregarded the law. "The court's
order permitting disclosure of confidential communications and treatment records
violated rights of Mr. Skakel and exposes the confidential communications and
records of others to improper release," the writ of error states. "Disclosure of
any confidential communications and treatment records was, in 1975 and 1979,
strictly prohibited under applicable federal law as well as Connecticut and