NEW HAVEN – The U.S. Attorney's office was trying Thursday to block former Gov. John Rowland from using confidential legal communications as part of his defense in his campaign fraud trial next week after learning that prosecutors inadvertently delivered the secret materials to Rowland's lawyers earlier this summer.
The documents in question are described in court filings as privileged communications between Brian Foley - Rowland's chief accuser and a key prosecution witness – and lawyers with a half dozen firms in Connecticut and Washington.
Prosecutors learned of the improper disclosure of the privileged materials when Rowland's defense team filed a notice that the former governor planned to introduce as defense evidence during trial at least seven letters between Foley and his criminal defense lawyers, Hubert J. Santos and Jessica Santos of Hartford.
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Conversations, written or otherwise, between lawyers and clients can include discussions of strategy or involve admissions and are almost always protected from disclosure in court cases.
Federal prosecutors moved in U.S. District Court in New Haven to preclude Rowland from using the materials in his defense or otherwise disclosing them. Significant parts of the court filings are sealed from public view so it was not possible to determine precisely what is in Foley's legal correspondence.
Although Rowland's defense lawyer, Reid Weingarten, apparently had not filed papers in the dispute by late Thursday, other trial lawyers said Weingarten would not attempt to introduce the legal communications as defense evidence if he did not think they supported Rowland's contention that he did nothing wrong.
Since 2012, Foley's legal strategy has changed as he moved, from a Rowland conspirator and target of a federal campaign finance fraud investigation to perhaps the government's strongest witness against Rowland. Foley and his wife, former Congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, are accused of conspiring to violate federal campaign laws by concealing Rowland's role as a paid consultant.
Foley and his wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley, for years denied any wrongdoing. It wasn't until earlier in the year that they abruptly changed course, signing plea bargain agreements that commit them with assisting government efforts to prosecute Rowland in return for leniency.
Foley's lawyers joined the government in trying to block Rowland from using the materials. U.S. District Judge Janet B. Arterton issued a partial decision, but it was sealed. Notes on the case docket show only that Arterton granted the government's request to block disclosure of some of the materials, but will defer decision on the rest, probably until Rowland's defense unfolds.
Although the disputed legal communications are not described in court filings, numerous other legal letters have become known through the case and are likely to be used by Rowland in his defense at trial.
Before Foley agreed to cooperate with the government, and while he and his wife were under investigation as conspirators, Hubert Santos wrote three detailed letters to prosecutors protesting Foley's innocence. Rowland has those letters and intends to use them in his defense. Rowland also has a letter to Foley from a Washington lawyer advising Foley that he could hire Rowland as a business consultant while Rowland volunteered his services to Wilson-Foley's campaign.
Hartford lawyer R. Bartley Halloran, who advised Rowland and wrote letters in his behalf before the ex-governor was charged, is expected to testify as a defense witness.
The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment. None of the lawyers in the case could be reached Thursday.
Motions filed in court Thursday by the Santos law firm and federal prosecutors said that the disputed legal communications were stored in a computer federal agents seized from Foley during the investigation. Alerted to the contents by Santos, the U.S. Attorney agreed to segregate and protect the privileged material. In their court papers, the government lawyers said no one in their office has read the disputed communications.
The court filings do not reveal how the material was disclosed to Rowland's defense team
In its court filing, the government said the legal communications in dispute involve the Connecticut firms of Hubert Santos, Shipman & Goodwin , Halloran & Sage, Cichetti, Tanlsey & McGrath and R. Bartley Halloran. The Washington, D.C. firm Patton Boggs also is involved.
Rowland is under indictment for five felonies and two misdemeanors and is accused, with the Foleys, of creating an elaborate ruse to disguise the fact that Brian Foley was secretly paying him to act as a $35,000 consultant to Lisa Wilson-Foley's unsuccessful campaign for Congress in the state's 5th Congressional district in 2012.
Specifically, Rowland is accused of breaking federal campaign reporting laws that were written to enable voters to learn where candidates obtain their support.
Wilson-Foley was competing in a crowded Republican primary when, prosecutors say, Brian Foley tried to disguise Rowland's political work for his wife by hiring him a consultant for Apple Rehab, the chain of nursing homes that Foley owns.
Among other things, federal prosecutors assert that Rowland used his political talk show on radio station WTIC- AM to attack at least one of Wilson-Foley's opponents.
Rowland is accused of drafting phony contracts to conceal political consulting work he was trying to do in 2010 and 2012
Federal prosecutors said another 5th District Republican congressional candidate, Mark Greenberg, rejected an offer by Rowland to provide secret political consulting services in 2010.
The deception, prosecutors contend, was to prevent attacks that candidates were buying advice from a felon.