The defense bar is fighting a move by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to compel a criminal defense lawyer to testify against his former client.
The prosecutor’s office has served a subpoena on Landry Belizaire, an attorney in Bloomfield, over his representation of Roydell Cameron on sexual assault charges. The prosecutor’s office claims the crime-fraud exception permits it to pierce the attorney-client privilege. But a lawyer representing Belizaire says the breach of attorney-client privilege is unwarranted. The Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is seeking to join the case as an amicus curiae.
Belizaire made arrangements for his client to turn himself in to the prosecutor in connection with the sexual assault, but Cameron, of Bronx, New York, did not appear at the scheduled time. Cameron was apprehended at John F. Kennedy Airport on March 29 as he was about to board a flight to Jamaica. Cameron, 40, was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon, and making terroristic threats. The arrest stems from the sexual assault of a woman at gunpoint in Palisades Park in April 2005.
The prosecutor’s office served Belizaire with a subpoena duces tecum for documents, including all communications with his client, and any third parties concerning the voluntary surrender. The subpoena also seeks to compel Belizaire to testify against his client before a grand jury.
When Belizaire sought to invoke attorney-client privilege, the prosecutor told him the crime-fraud exception applies.
Belizaire is represented by Raymond Brown of Scarinci Hollenbeck in Lyndhurst. Brown called efforts to compel Belizaire’s testimony “overreaching.”
Belizaire, now conflicted out of representing Cameron, withdrew from the case. Hackensack attorney Brian Neary now represents Cameron.
Lawyers in the case were scheduled to hold a conference call with Superior Court Judge Margaret Foti of Bergen County on Tuesday to set a briefing schedule.
Belizaire “was placed in an unenviable position by a prosecutor with a reputation for overreaching,” said John Azzarello, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, in a May 23 email to members of that group. The subpoena was issued by Assistant Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer, and its issuance was approved by Dennis Calo, Azzarello said in that email.
Calo served as acting prosecutor until May 21, when Mark Musella was sworn in. The ACDL agreed to serve as amicus because prosecutors’ attempts to pierce attorney-client privilege represent a “very important and seemingly recurring issue,” Azzarello said in the email.
Grootenboer has made clear that she believes Belizaire was not complicit in Cameron’s attempt to flee, but the state believes Cameron used Belizaire without his knowledge to stall the date and time for surrender, Azzarello said in the email.
In 2018, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office lost its bid to breach attorney-client privilege in a civil suit accusing it of blowing the cover of a confidential informant. The prosecutor’s office sought to compel testimony of Robert Tandy, a lawyer representing a detective who induced Frank Lagano to become an informant. After Lagano was shot and killed in 2007 outside an East Brunswick diner he owned, in a crime that remains unsolved, his estate sued the prosecutor’s office.
In that case, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office claimed Tandy waived his attorney-client privilege when his client filed a suit against the attorney general raising allegations similar to the ones in the Lagano case. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor rejected the office’s argument, saying that no court “has construed the filing of a complaint as a blanket waiver for all communications between an attorney and his or her client.”
A spokeswoman for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Maureen Parenta, declined to answer questions about its subpoena of Belizaire because it is an open matter.