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Supreme Court hears arguments in victims' advocates subpoena case

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The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments today involving the subpoena of records from a domestic violence agency by a defendant who had been charged with two counts of Class A felony child molesting. The agency argued that due to statutory privilege between victims and advocates they did not need to provide the requested information.

In In re Subpoena to Crisis Connection, No. 19S05-1012-CR-678, defendant Ronald K. Fromme requested that Crisis Connection, a domestic violence agency with locations in Jasper, Tell City, and Rockport, release records on a person who had talked with advocates at the Jasper location.

The trial court ordered Crisis Connection to produce the records for an in camera review, but the organization asserted that Indiana Code 35-37-6-9 creates an “absolute privilege” for advocacy organizations. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision July 15, 2010.

In today’s oral arguments, Jon Laramore, representing Crisis Connection, said that the privilege between a victim and advocate was the same as that between a psychotherapist, social worker, or physician and a patient or client.

Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. asked Laramore if, because Crisis Connection received government funding, it should be considered a government agency similar to the way law enforcement is a government agency, and information from law enforcement is available to the defendant.

Laramore said that his client did receive federal funding, as do many domestic violence agencies, but that it is run as a private organization.

It was pointed out that if a counselor for victims learns that there might be child abuse, the counselor must issue a report to Indiana Department of Child Services. The organizations don’t release their clients’ entire files in those cases, just the information needed for those reports.

The counselors for these organizations also tell their clients that everything they say is confidential, and they explain that if there is suspected child abuse they are required to file a report with DCS, Laramore said. A victim can also sign a waiver if he or she no longer wants the record to remain confidential.

If the court considers balancing when a defendant can subpoena a domestic violence organization with the right to confidentiality, Laramore asked the justices to consider People v. Stanaway, a Michigan case that said defendants must have concrete evidence showing why they are seeking information and not just speculation.

He added that there are currently at least 25 subpoenas pending against domestic violence advocacy organizations around Indiana.

S. Anthony Long, Fromme’s attorney, said the request was justified for his client’s defense. He also said that his client met two of the three steps used in balancing this kind of request based on Wlliams v. State of Indiana: a sufficient designation of the items sought to be discovered; the items requested are material to the defense; and if the particularity and materiality requirements are met, the trial court must grant the request unless there is a showing of “paramount interest” in non-disclosure.

Long and the justices discussed the statute, and examined the question, “if the Legislature took the time to carve out exceptions to the privilege for advocates, why didn’t they include situations like Fromme’s?”

They also discussed the difference between Williams in Indiana and Stanaway in Michigan.

Justice Sullivan asked how Long knew there was something in the records and that he wasn’t just “fishing,” as Laramore put it in his briefs.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard also commented that as someone who reads child molestation cases for a living, what Long described as strained family relations and other issues that lead Long to believe there is something in the record that could help his client’s case were “extraordinarily ordinary” circumstances and did not seem to show any concrete evidence for this particular case.

This case was previously reported  in the Jan. 5-18, 2011 edition of Indiana Lawyer.
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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