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Judge Hands Setback to Lawyers for Attias

Court: Defense wanted records and evidence sealed in the case against the UC Santa Barbara student who faces four counts of murder.

March 27, 2001|SALLY CONNELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA BARBARA — A judge Monday rejected a defense request to seal records and evidence in the case of David Edward Attias, the UC Santa Barbara freshman charged with murder and manslaughter in the deaths of four students hit by a car he was driving Feb. 23 in the college town of Isla Vista.

The defense argued that the California Highway Patrol illegally listened to a taped attorney-client conversation and had searched and seized school records from two schools that Attias attended, violating the psychotherapist-patient privilege in the process.

"We need some kind of interim remedy early in this case before it becomes tainted more than it already has been by illegal police activity," said Robert Sanger, Attias' Santa Barbara attorney.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Patrick McKinley admitted in his own comments Monday and in court documents that the taped conversation between attorney Barbara Carroll and Attias at the county jail, a tape that was then forwarded to the CHP, was illegal. His office turned that tape over to the defense as soon as it learned of its existence. But McKinley said the rest of the defense's arguments were too broad.

Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Joseph Lodge agreed, and rejected without prejudice the request to seal records. He stressed that the defense could return to the court with more specific motions to suppress evidence in the weeks ahead.

Lodge also set a June 14 date for the preliminary hearing on the 13 counts against Attias: four counts of murder, four counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and five counts of driving under the influence of drugs causing great bodily harm.

Attias, an 18-year-old from Santa Monica whose father is television director Daniel Attias, did not make eye contact with his parents or anyone else in the courtroom except the judge.

Attias' Saab, going 50 mph or more, struck students walking from party to party on a crowded residential street in one-mile-square Isla Vista. The CHP has since released toxicology tests allegedly showing that Attias had marijuana and the topical pain reliever lidocaine in his bloodstream at the time.

The defense asked that CHP officers who listened to the recording of the Carroll-Attias conversation be barred from talking to McKinley and other investigators, and from taking part in the investigation. Sanger made a similar request regarding CHP officers who read the notes of Sanger's investigators.

McKinley argued in a written response that the request was so broadly worded that, if it were granted, "no traffic officer in the state" would be able to investigate the Attias case.

Jack M. Earley, another Attias attorney, challenged the legality of the seizure of Attias' school records.

Court documents show that the CHP searched and seized records from tiny Concord High School in Santa Monica, a private school Attias attended. And they seized records from CEDU Middle School, in Running Springs near Lake Arrowhead. CEDU's Web site describes the facility as a school "for children who have social, emotional or behavioral problems at home or in school."

In his written argument against the request to seal records, McKinley said the psychotherapist-patient privilege does not apply if the defense makes the mental health of the defendant an issue.

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