The D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a lower court ruling that top officials and attorneys of Synanon, the California-based drug rehabilitation program, had lied and destroyed controversial tape recordings in an effort to undermine a civil suit.
"The participation by Synanon's high officials and counsel, in successful attempts to deceive the court and to influence its decisions," wrote Judge Julia Mack for a three-judge panel, "was conduct which the administration of justice cannot tolerate."
In its decision, the District's highest court agreed with the 1983 finding by D.C. Superior Court Judge Leonard Braman that officials of the troubled program had "perpetrated a fraud upon the court."
Braman's original decision was hailed as significant and has been cited successfully in other lawsuits involving the group.
In yesterday's ruling, the panel upheld Braman's decision to dismiss a case brought by Synanon against the owner of a District apartment building that the group attempted to turn into an East Coast headquarters about seven years ago.
After an 11-day preliminary hearing, Braman found in October 1983 that Synanon officials had orchestrated a two-year effort to destroy scores of tape recordings and computer indexes that could relate to three court cases involving the group's officials, including a a police investigation of allegations that residents of the group had placed a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a California lawyer in 1978.
After listening to the testimony of two former Synanon members, Braman said that Synanon officials had "perceived that the tapes and like material might be harmful and that a jury might find that their content was deadly serious and, therefore, proceeded to destroy the materials and then cover up the destruction."
Yesterday's ruling cited Braman, noting that he had found that the materials destroyed related to "violence, money, purchase of guns, legal terror tactics, Holy War, changing partners or love match."
Synanon's attorney, Sherman L. Cohn, said yesterday that he had not read all of the appellate decision and did not know if the group would appeal.
Warren K. Kaplan, attorney for the owner of the apartment building, the Boston House on Massachusetts Avenue NW, applauded yesterday's ruling and said that he was pleased, but not surprised.
In October 1984, a U.S. District Court judge cited Braman's opinion in denying Synanon's request for a federal tax exemption. Synanon also was removed as a plaintiff in two libel suits brought against University of California professor Richard Ofshe when he cited Braman's decision, according to Ofshe.