• In a Case of First Impression, when Plaintiff in a Civil Case is also a Defendant in a Related Criminal Prosecution, they are Entitled to a Stay in the Civil Case.
  • October 4, 2018 | Author: Renita L. Collins
  • Law Firm: Thomas, Thomas & Hafer LLP - Baltimore Office
  • Background

    Plaintiffs Kristi Heffington and her husband brought an action for defamation and other torts based on reports her employer made to the police and others that Mrs. Heffington stole from the business and committed identity fraud while employed. Because of these reports, Mrs. Heffington also faced criminal prosecution for her alleged conduct. Prior to her indictment, Mrs. Heffington was deposed in the civil case. Mrs. Heffington moved to stay the civil case until the criminal case was concluded, arguing that she could not prove her civil claims without testifying at trial and could not testify without potentially incriminating herself. The Civil Court denied the motion to stay, stating that Plaintiff had already been deposed under oath. Plaintiff called no witnesses at trial and judgment was entered in favor of the employer. Plaintiffs appealed the civil judgment.

    Holding

    The Court of Special Appeals vacated the civil judgment holding that the stay should have been granted. The Court found that by attending the deposition, Plaintiff did not waive her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and suffer no penalty and her Maryland Constitution Article 19 right to court access, because no criminal charges were pending at that time. That changed once she was indicted. The Court also held that the Trial Court should have weighed Mrs. Heffington’s constitutional rights against the potential prejudice to the defense. Because the civil case had been pending for less than a year and discovery was completed, there was no showing of prejudice to the defense. Further, Mrs. Heffington would suffer the penalty of losing her cause of action and access to the courts in order to protect her Fifth Amendment rights if no stay was granted.