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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Defamation lawsuit must move forward even though criminal case pending, Md. court rules

State Court

By Marian Johns | Aug 27, 2019


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – The Court of Appeals of Maryland has reversed a Court of Special Appeals ruling that allowed a former Maryland dental office manager to stay her defamation civil lawsuit until the end of her related criminal case.

According to the Aug. 16 filing, petitioners Roland and Anne Moser appealed the Special Appeals' reversal of a circuit court judgment that denied the respondents Kristi and Matthew Heffington's motion to stay their civil proceeding.

The Heffingtons filed a defamation suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County against the Mosers over allegations the Mosers made false statements to the police and their dental practice insurer regarding Kristi Heffington allegedly stealing money from their dental practice. 

Several months later, Kristi Heffington was deposed for trial and was eventually indicted by a grand jury for a theft scheme, identity theft and fraud, according to the Court of Appeals filing. The Heffingtons then filed a motion to stay their civil suit against the Mosers, arguing that Kristi Heffington's testimony for the civil suit would compromise her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the criminal case.

However, their requested stay was denied. 

The Heffingtons successfully appealed their motion to stay in the Court of Special Appeals and in July 2018, Kristi Heffington pleaded guilty to identity fraud and other criminal offenses.

The court reversed the Court of Special Appeals judgment and affirmed the decision of the circuit court to deny the Heffingtons' motion to stay. Judge Irma Raker stated that Kristi Heffington had "waived her Fifth Amendment privilege" when she testified in her deposition and that the "circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the stay."

"A trial court abuses its discretion only when its decision is manifestly unreasonable or is based on untenable grounds," Raker wrote. "Mrs. Heffington waived her Fifth Amendment privilege to the extent necessary to cross-examine her on the conduct at issue, and a stay would cause substantial expense and uncertainty for the Mosers. The decision of the circuit court to deny the stay was not based upon an incorrect standard, was not manifestly unreasonable, and hence was not an abuse of discretion."

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