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Prison guard’s accused killer loses battle over mental-health records

The mental health treatment records of an inmate who is accused of killing a correctional officer must be turned over to a circuit court judge, the state’s highest court has said.

Defense lawyers in the capital case against Lamar C. Harris say the records are privileged, but the Court of Appeals on Friday said the orders to produce them cannot be appealed until after a trial is held.

Harris is one of two men accused of stabbing correctional officer David McGuinn, 42, to death in 2006 at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, which has since been closed.

Physicians at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center have determined Harris to be incompetent to stand trial; however, no court has held a hearing on that issue. Friday’s opinion by the top court removes a key obstacle to such a hearing.

James Williams, senior counsel for capital litigation at the attorney general’s office who handled the state’s appeal, said he did not want to comment on the case because it has not gone to trial.

Harris’ attorney, Brian Saccenti of the public defender’s office, said he had not yet read the opinion Friday afternoon.

Citing Maryland case law, the Court of Appeals said there are three, limited exceptions allowing criminal defendants to appeal before a final judgment has been rendered.

Those exceptions include: appeals from interlocutory orders specifically allowed by statute; immediate appeals permitted under Maryland Rule 2-602; and appeals from interlocutory orders allowed under the common law collateral order doctrine.

Harris sought to challenge the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court’s discovery orders under the collateral order doctrine, or alternatively, under the Perlman doctrine, which he said should be considered a fourth exception to the final judgment rule, according to the court’s Friday opinion.

The collateral order doctrine treats interlocutory orders as final and appealable if they “(1) conclusively determine the disputed question; (2) resolve an important issue; (3) resolve an issue that is completely separate from the merits of the action; and (4) would be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment,” the court said.

Since each of the four requirements is strictly applied in Maryland, the court said the collateral order doctrine is a very narrow exception to the final judgment rule. The Court of Appeals found the third and fourth requirements of the doctrine were not met in Harris’ case.

In Perlman v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court approved an interlocutory appeal of denial of a motion that challenged a discovery order on the basis of privilege. The Court of Appeals said Perlman would not apply in Harris’ case because it is “questionable” whether the doctrine survived the Supreme Court’s decision in Mohawk Industries v Carpenter.

Additionally, the Court of Appeals said Perlman addresses federal appellate procedure not binding on state courts.

“Accordingly, because Harris, a party and the alleged privilege holder, may seek an appellate determination of the propriety of the discovery orders after a final judgment, we are not inclined to take this opportunity to expand the pool of exceptions to our final judgment rule by annexation of the Perlman doctrine,” Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote for the court.

Judge Sally D. Adkins dissented from the opinion.

The state’s top court granted certiorari in the case after the Court of Special Appeals dismissed Harris’ appeal.

Harris, 40, and Lee E. Stephens, 31, are already serving life sentences. Each could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering McGuinn.

In April, the Court of Appeals gave the state a green light to proceed with Stephens’ prosecution. That trial is scheduled to begin in January in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, according to court records.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Lamar Cornelius Harris v. State of Maryland, No. 79, Sept. Term 2010. Reported. Opinion by Greene, J. Filed June 24, 2011.

Issue:

Can the petitioner ask for appellate review before a final judgment has been issued by the trial court?

Holding:

No; this case does not meet the standards for the rarely used exceptions to the final judgment rule.

Counsel:

Brian Saccenti for petitioner; James Williams for respondent.

RecordFax#11-0624-20

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