The trial of a 39-year-old convicted felon accused of stalking a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge took an odd turn this morning as opening arguments were delayed for at least one day because the defendant had checked herself into the emergency room.
Taylar Nuevelle is accused of stalking Magistrate Judge Janet Albert, with whom she had a yearlong relationship, and breaking into her house. Albert found her former girlfriend unconscious Albert's attic on Sep. 13, according to police reports. (In May Nuevelle pleaded not guilty). For yesterday's coverage click here.
As the trial was set to begin at 10:30 a.m., Nuevelle’s lawyer, D.C. solo practitioner A. Kevin Fahey, announced to the court that the defendant was waiting to be admitted into Georgetown University Hospital’s emergency room. Fahey declined to publicly say what Nuevelle’s medical problem was, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Brenowitz later mentioned in court that it had to do with her legs. Fahey asked that the trial be delayed until tomorrow.
But Brenowitz expressed skepticism that the condition was legitimate or that Nuevelle was indeed at the hospital at all because she said Nuvelle has a criminal history of delaying trials with bogus medical claims. In 1999, Nuevelle absconded to England with her child for three years after feigning illness to excuse herself from a D.C. Superior Court courtroom in the middle of a custody hearing and then fleeing, Brenowitz told the court. The incident resulted in a 2003 felony conviction of lying to obtain a passport. A current landlord-tenant trial involving Nuevelle has been delayed for medical reasons too and Brenowitz said the victim in that case claims Nuevelle has used similar medical claims to “get out of doing things, like vacating the house.” “The government has some serious concerns about this pattern of behavior, the failure to be present,” Brenowitz continued. “I’m reluctant to give the impression that one can check oneself into an emergency room and the entire trial can wait for a day.”
Fahey assured the court that the condition was real, however, saying that he has even driven his client to the hospital for similar reasons in the past. “Based on my personal experience, I don’t think this is any kind of feigned illness,” he said. “It’s been an ongoing situation. She didn’t just make it up.”
Before deciding to delay the trial for a day, Superior Court Judge Russell Canan wanted to make sure the situation wasn’t a hoax. “She didn’t seem in any distress yesterday (at jury selection),” he said. “But I don’t know, it certainly could be that she has a legitimate medical concern.” The judge sent pretrial services representatives and Brenowitz sent a detective to the hospital while Fahey called his client to confirm the visit. Canan temporarily excused the jury, telling them that there was an administrative matter that needed to be settled, and pushed the trial back one hour while he waited for the investigation.
As the trial resumed around noon, Nuevelle was still absent and all parties agreed that according to their inquiries, she was indeed in the hospital. Fahey said she was awaiting the results of medical tests that could take a few hours. As a result, Judge Canan ruled without objection that the trial be delayed until at least tomorrow and perhaps longer pending a 4 p.m. update on Nuevelle’s diagnosis. Despite Fahey’s objections over privacy concerns, Canan also ruled that Nuevelle’s medical records for today be released to Brenowitz for review.
But there was still the pressing matter of what to tell the waiting jury, Canan said. “I don’t want it to be a situation where her absence either hurts her (or) prejudices her case,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where the jury is frustrated because their time’s been wasted.” He decided to excuse the lawyers and called the jury in to tell them simply “one of the essential persons in this case has become unavailable” because “trials are a human endeavor and unfortunately, things happen that are unexpected.”