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Lawyer Seeks Case Dismissal Over Seizure by D.A. : Courts: Attorney of man accused of workers' compensation fraud says investigators took confidential information.

September 10, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The attorney for the first Ventura County defendant charged with workers' compensation fraud asked a judge Friday to dismiss the case against his client, contending that prosecutors violated the man's rights.

District attorney investigators confiscated a computer disk that contains confidential information the defendant, 41-year-old Alan Griffis of Camarillo, had prepared for his attorney, lawyer George C. Eskin said.

In Friday's hearing, Eskin asked Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath to dismiss the three counts of fraud and one count of theft against Griffis, a sales manager at BGL Technology, a Camarillo computer firm.

McGrath ordered the hearing continued to Sept. 23. Outside court, Eskin said prosecutors might have gained valuable information on defense strategy by seizing Griffis' computer disk. Prosecutors denied ever reviewing the disk.

"They know the whole defense case," Eskin said.

Chastising the district attorney's office, Eskin told McGrath that prosecutors should have known the potential consequences of seizing communications a defendant writes to his attorney. "It disappoints me that they did not immediately recognize their responsibility," he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Rhonda A. Schmidt defended the raid, saying investigators took every precaution to guard against taking any item that might have interfered with Griffis' right to a fair trial.

Even today, Schmidt said she is not convinced that the computer disk in question contains privileged information. The disk was turned over to court officials, she said, as soon as Eskin explained why he believed it to be confidential.

"We got the disk. We didn't look at it. We put it down as soon as George started screaming 'privilege,' " Schmidt said after the hearing.

Prosecutors say Griffis collected nearly $7,000 by misrepresenting his neck, back and shoulder injuries.

During a preliminary hearing in June, a judge ordered Griffis to stand trial after viewing a surveillance tape of the defendant riding a motorcycle, slipping a motorcycle helmet on and off and painting his garage while receiving the injury benefits.

BGL Technology, which is owned by Griffis' brother, Steven, was raided about 11:30 a.m. July 29. Jack Hughes, one of eight district attorney's investigators on the raid, testified Friday that he seized the disk from a second-floor desk at the company.

He said he saw other files that he instantly realized related to Griffis' defense, but they were not confiscated. In his request to have the charges dismissed, however, Eskin contends the disk that Hughes confiscated contained information about defense plans.

In fact, Eskin said Alan Griffis' father, Ken Griffis, expressly told the investigators that they were taking confidential information that pertained to his son's criminal case.

Eskin wrote a letter to Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury on Aug. 1, stating his concerns, Eskin said.

At that point, prosecutor Schmidt said she ordered the computer disk off limits to anyone involved in the case until she could study Eskin's claims. It was not until Eskin filed his dismissal motion that she understood his argument, Schmidt said.

"I kept waiting for George to put his motion where his mouth was," she said.

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