WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court let stand yesterday a state ruling that says a lawyer must disclose what a now-dead client told her about a 9-year-old girl's disappearance.
The court, without comment, declined to hear the challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court decision involving former public defender Beth Lewis. The Ohio court said permission from the client's widower was enough to waive the attorney-client privilege.
Investigators want to know what Lewis's client Jan Franks said to her about Erica Baker, who vanished in 1999 while walking her dog near her home in a Dayton suburb. Prosecutors have said a jail informant indicated Franks and others were in a van that allegedly struck and killed the girl. No one has been charged in the case.
After Franks died of a drug overdose two years ago, her husband gave Lewis permission to disclose any information. Lewis refused to answer grand jury questions, and a judge held her in contempt in 2002. The court delayed imposing any sentence during the appeals.
Ohio is one of the few states that allow a surviving spouse to give permission for a lawyer to disclose privileged information. Lewis had argued that allowing the privilege to be waived would unnecessarily chill communications if clients knew discussions with their lawyers could be disclosed after their death.