An article yesterday incorrectly reported that city Public Defender James McComas had filed a motion in D.C. Superior Court attempting to quash a subpoena ordering him to appear before a grand jury. The motions were filed by an attorney for Keith L. Roddy, the defendant in the case. The article stated incorrectly that a federal prosecutor had called actions taken by McComas a "blatant attempt to stonewall the ongoing grand jury investigation." The quote was meant to describe the efforts to quash the subpoena. Prosecutors made no accusations against McComas.
Federal prosecutors and the D.C. Public Defender Service (PDS) are locked in a legal skirmish over efforts by the U.S. attorney's office to force a defense lawyer to testify before a grand jury in a criminal case involving one of his clients.
In papers filed Monday in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors accused public defender James McComas of a "blatant attempt to stonewall the ongoing grand jury investigation" by refusing to comply with a subpoena issued last month.
Prosecutors involved in the unusual confrontation want to question McComas in secret grand jury deliberations despite McComas' objection that he has a confidential attorney-client relationship with the man charged in the case.
McComas was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury March 11 in the case of a Northeast Washington man accused of starving his infant son to death. McComas was allowed to absent himself then and has since filed a request that the subpoena be quashed on the ground that his recent contacts with the defendant are protected under laws involving attorney-client confidentiality.
Assistant U.S. Attorney F. Joseph Warin contends, however, that while McComas represented the defendant in an unrelated criminal case two years ago, the attorney-client relationship had ended and that McComas can no longer claim protection against being compelled to testify against the man.
The defendant, 29-year-old Keith L. Roddy, was arrested Jan. 26 and charged with homicide after police found Roddy's 9-month-old son, Keith, dead in Roddy's apartment at 2029 Benning Rd. NE.
D.C. medical examiner James Luke determined that the infant died of starvation "due to neglect." A second child, Lynn Roddy, 2 1/2, also was found in the apartment suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, but survived. Roddy contended that he had no money and could not get help from city agencies.
According to court papers, the dispute centers on conversations McComas had with Roddy between Dec. 10, 1982, and Jan. 26, when he was arrested. McComas' attorney, Timothy Junkin, contends that Roddy prior to Jan. 26 "approached Mr. McComas to seek advice and counsel." In doing so, Roddy "believed that the conversations were confidential" and that they "would be protected by the lawyer/client privilege . . . ."
According to papers filed by prosecutor Warin, an investigation has shown that Roddy "did not believe that he was talking with Mr. McComas in an attorney-client relationship." McComas, Warin contends, was "not acting within his professional capacity" at the time and therefore must comply with the subpoena.
Prosecutors originally charged Roddy with second-degree murder in the case. A Superior Court judge ruled in February that there was insufficient evidence to support that charge and reduced it to manslaughter.
The grand jury is not bound by the judge's ruling. Should the panel return an indictment charging murder, Roddy would face a maximum penalty of life in prison, if convicted. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 15 years.
Warin and McComas both declined to comment this week on the grand jury subpoena. McComas represented Roddy in a 1981 case in which Roddy was acquitted of a charge of rape. Roddy was on probation for a narcotics conviction at the time of his most recent arrest and currently is being held without bond pending a review of his probation status.
Roddy had been represented in the current case by one of McComas' colleagues at the Public Defender Service, Arthur Leavans.