Updated 5 p.m.
Lawyers in the Robert Wone civil case have withdrawn their effort to obtain e-mail and telephone records from the three men who were acquitted this year on charges tied to the fatal stabbing of Wone. A D.C. Superior Court judge has ordered the court papers in the dispute unsealed.
The attorneys representing Wone’s estate filed court papers earlier this month in D.C. Superior Court seeking a subpoena to force Verizon to turn over e-mail and phone records for Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward.
The Wone family attorneys allege Price, Zaborsky and Ward conspired to protect themselves from criminal and civil liability and likely had "relevant and incriminating” communication in the weeks before and after Wone was fatally stabbed on Aug. 2, 2006. Wone, general counsel for Radio Free Asia, was killed in the Dupont Circle home of Price and Zaborsky.
In late June, Price, a former Arent Fox litigation partner, Zaborsky and Ward were acquitted on conspiracy and obstruction charges connected to the murder of Wone. Prosecutors had alleged the men covered up the true circumstances of Wone’s death to thwart the homicide investigation. The Wone murder remains unsolved.
The attorneys in the civil case received some records, including phone and e-mail documents, from the criminal prosecution. A lead attorney for the Wone family, Benjamin Razi, a Covington & Burling partner in Washington, declined to comment this afternoon. Covington associate Daniel Suleiman also declined to comment.
The plaintiffs’ motion seeking a subpoena was first filed last year, in February. That motion was denied without prejudice before the presiding judge entered a stay to allow the criminal proceedings to unfold without interference from the civil action. The Wone lawyers could seek to re-file the subpoena request to acquire more records to go beyond the records the government received in the criminal prosecution.
The defense lawyers in the civil case opposed the motion seeking a subpoena, calling it a “fishing expedition.” The lawyers— including Robert Spagnoletti of Schertler & Onorato, Craig Roswell of Baltimore’s Niles Barton & Wilmer and solo practitioner Frank Daily of Hunt Valley, Md.—said the release of the records would violate privacy rights of Price, Zaborsky and Ward.
Price, Zaborsky and Ward’s lawyers said in a joint filing that e-mail communication could have attorney-client protection. Daily said in an e-mail to Suleiman in July that the spousal privilege protects e-mail communication between Price and Zaborsky.
The defense attorneys wanted to keep under seal the court papers tied to the fight over e-mail and cell phone records. The lawyers said the materials that the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed, including e-mail correspondence between Price and Ward, has the “high probability of causing undue harassment and embarrassment” to the defendants.
Lawyers for both sides filed court papers under seal in the e-mail and phone record dispute. The Wone estate lawyers objected to having the material remain secret. The documents remained under seal until yesterday when Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge ordered the records to be published.
Hedge said the e-mail correspondence attached to the plaintiffs’ subpoena request was already part of the public record. The documents in question were government exhibits in the criminal prosecution.
“Moreover, there is a general right of the public to inspect and copy public records,” Hedge said in her ruling. A status hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 10:30 a.m.