A D.C. Superior Court judge today refused to throw out a $20 million wrongful death suit that alleges three Washington men, including a former Arent Fox partner, conspired to cover up the unsolved murder of lawyer Robert Wone.
The defense attorneys for the three housemates named in the suit wanted the case dismissed on the ground it was filed outside the one-year statute of limitations. The attorneys representing defendants Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward said Wone’s estate had enough information to bring a lawsuit within a year after the August 2006 murder.
The civil suit was filed on the heels of criminal charges brought in late 2008 against Price, his domestic partner Zaborsky and their roommate Ward. A police affidavit published at the time provided the backbone of the wrongful death complaint, presenting new information that was not known to Wone’s widow at the time of the homicide, a lawyer for the Wone estate said today in court.
The lawyer, Benjamin Razi, a Covington & Burling partner, said the affidavit was a “bombshell” that illuminated what he called an “extensive” and “textured” conspiracy among Price, Zaborsky and Ward to thwart the police investigation of Wone’s murder. Razi (at left) said the defense claim that the suit is time-barred is “really preposterous.”
Judge Brook Hedge shot down a contention that Wone’s widow knew enough about the murder to file a wrongful death suit within the one-year statute of limitations.
The judge swiftly rejected a contention from Price’s lawyer, Brett Buckwalter of Baltimore’s Niles Barton & Wilmer, that police statements in the press provided enough of a basis for Wone’s estate to file suit. Media reports indicated Price, Zaborsky and Ward—reportedly the only men in the house when Wone was killed—were the targets of the homicide investigation. In news reports, police questioned the housemates’ credibility.
Hedge suggested Kathy Wone didn’t know any more about her husband’s murder one year after it happened than in the days following the homicide.
The defense maneuvering to get the suit dismissed, Razi said in court, marked an “aggressive attempt” to reshape the law on statute of limitations in the District in a manner that would block wrongful death actions in unsolved homicides. Price, Zaborsky and Ward were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, not murder. Earlier this year, a judge declared the men not guilty following a non-jury trial.
Hedge had several items on her plate today in addition to the motion to dismiss. She refused to grant a request from the defense attorneys for a gag order, reminding the lawyers in the case of their ethical obligation not to characterize any of the legal action in statements to reporters. The judge urged the attorneys to “bite their tongue.”
In court today, an attorney for Zaborsky, Frank Daily of Hunt Valley, Md., questioned why there is any necessity to speak at all to the press. “At the core of the issue here is guaranteeing a fair trial for both sides,” Daily said.
Hedge also ordered Price, Zaborsky and Ward to personally invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The defendants, the judge said, must verbally announce that right and cannot rely exclusively on the invocation of it through counsel. “We will march forward accordingly, your honor,” a lawyer for Ward, Robert Spagnoletti of Washington’s Schertler & Onorato, said in court.
Razi said the plaintiffs’ lawyers, a team that also includes Patrick Regan of Regan, Zambri & Long, will want jurors to be told to infer answers to questions to which the defendants refused to respond. At the criminal trial, Price, Zaborsky and Ward did not testify.