Eavesdrop May Bring Dismissal of Charges

A defense attorney urged a state appeals court Friday to dismiss charges against a Ventura burglary defendant because a prosecutor eavesdropped on the suspect's private conversation with his lawyer.

The public defender's office is seeking the dismissal of charges against Robert Lee Morrow, 30, while the district attorney's office is arguing to continue with the prosecution.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal took the case after a Superior Court judge refused to dismiss charges when it was learned that Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Ratner directed an investigator to listen in on a conversation between Morrow and his public defender.

"Dismissal is the only reasonable remedy for conduct such as occurred here," Deputy Public Defender Bryant Villagran said. "No one should be offended by the idea that Mr. Morrow might get a dismissal out of this."

Morrow is accused of breaking into a Port Hueneme motel in September, 1993. The eavesdropping occurred when Morrow was talking with Deputy Public Defender Mary Fielder in a holding cell adjacent to a courtroom.

Ratner and the investigator, Katherine Smith, were charged with felony eavesdropping in May.

The charge later was dropped by a Superior Court judge because the pair did not use an electronic device to listen to Morrow's conversation with his attorney.

Villagran said he told the judges that Ratner and Smith's conduct was so egregious it should result in the dismissal of charges. That is the only way to dissuade prosecutors from eavesdropping on future conversations between a defendant and his attorney, Villagran said.

"You can't rely on the good faith of the district attorney's office," he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin G. DeNoce, who argued for the prosecution, could not be reached for comment.

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