Hit and Run


N.Y. Times, Oct. 12, 1988

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP)--The police know many facts about the hit-and-run death of Mark Baltes, whose body was dragged 60 feet when he was struck by a white Buick after midnight on March 9, 1986.

But there is one crucial fact the authorities lack: the name of the driver. The driver's lawyer had shielded the identity for more than two and a half years. This week the lawyer, Barry Krischer, may finally be ordered to divulge his secret.

In a case that challenges the sanctity of the confidential relationship between lawyer and client, a Florida district judge is considering a request by Mr. Baltes' parents to force Mr. Krischer to disclose his client's name.

The unusual struggle, which has aroused considerable interest among lawyers, began the day after the accident when the driver asked Mr. Krischer to initiate a plea bargain arrangement without disclosing his client's name to the authorities.

According to the police, Mr. Baltes, a 28-year old electrician, was struck and killed as he staggered down a road at night while drunk. Detectives used car fragments at the scene and paint chips from Mr. Baltes' skull to theorize that the vehicle was a 1984 or 1985 Buick Riviera. But hundreds of interviews and a reward failed to yield any firm suspects.

Mr. Krischer, in an attempt to block pressure to disclose the name, retained another lawyer, Scott Richardson, who opened talks with prosecutors but did not divulge Mr. Krischer's link to the case. Mr. Richardson says he never learned the name of the driver. Mr. Krischer eventually came forward but refused to identify his client.

Joseph D. Farrish, Jr., an attorney for Mr. Baltes' parents, filed a $6 million wrongful death suit against an unspecified defendant in February, naming the unknown driver Dow. He then subpoenaed Mr. Krischer to testify to the identity of his client. Mr. Krischer refused on grounds of attorney-client privilege. Mr. Farrish contends that the attorney-client privilege does not give lawyers a blanket under which to conceal the identity of a fugitive.

"To me the case is quite clear," said Mr. Farrish. "I'm ready to take it as far as they are willing to go."

Mr. Baltes' parents, who have sat quietly through hearings this month, are exasperated at efforts to learn the name. "I'm getting the lawyer-client privilege up to here," said the dead man's mother, Mildred Baltes. "It certainly doesn't help solve any cases."

Earlier this year the Balteses even agreed to allow state prosecutors to offer the driver immunity from criminal, but not civil, prosecution if the person came forward.

"If there was ever a case to test the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege, this one is it," said Prof. Andrew Kaufman of the Harvard University Law School, who is author of a book on legal ethics. "In most disputes over the attorney-client privilege, the identity is known and the contents of the conversations are not. What makes this case unique is that it is just the opposite."

N.Y. Times, Oct. 13, 1988

Article by Jeffrey Schmalz

MIAMI--In a case closely watched in legal circles nationwide, a Florida Judge ruled today that a lawyer does not have to disclose the identity of a client who may have killed a man in a hit-and-run accident two years ago. The decision will be appealed....

Judge Timothy Poulton ruled that the name was protected by the attorney-client privilege. "If we fail to rule as we do in this case," Judge Poulton wrote, "the result could be the erection of a wall between the public and attorneys."

Mr. Farrish said: "I bet today this fleeing felon is laughing at the system."

Assume you are law clerk working with a judge on the court of appeals. The judge sends you these New York Times articles and asks for your analysis.

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