Judge to unseal redacted psych re­ports in crash case

Well­man was ac­quit­ted by rea­son of in­san­ity of mur­der in fa­tal col­li­sion

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor By LEE IMADA

Sec­ond Cir­cuit Judge Pe­ter Cahill ruled Thurs­day that redacted ver­sions of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ports that formed the foun­da­tion of the ac­quit­tal by rea­son of in­san­ity of a woman who was charged with mur­der in a fa­tal crash in 2016 may be made pub­lic.

“The court con­cludes as a mat­ter of law that the pub­lic has a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in the men­tal health eval­u­a­tions that led to” de­fen­dant Ash­ley Well­man’s “ac­quit­tal of the charged of­fenses on the grounds of men­tal dis­ease, disor­der or de­fect,” Cahill said.

He or­dered the re­lease of the re­ports by

Dr. Martin

Blin­der and psy­chol­o­gists

Ge­orge Choi and Alex Lich­ton on Oct. 24, un­less any party files an ap­peal.

In Au­gust, Cahill is­sued an or­der to show cause as to why the med­i­cal re­ports should not be un­sealed.

In re­sponse, The Maui News filed a mem­o­ran­dum sup­port­ing the un­seal­ing of the psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tions. Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Cen­ter for the Pub­lic In­ter­est, who rep­re­sented the news­pa­per, ar­gued in the mem­o­ran­dum that the re­ports should be made pub­lic “to pre­serve the in­tegrity and per­ceived fair­ness of the court’s de­ci­sion.”

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, rep­re­sent­ing the Health Depart­ment, and Well­man’s at­tor­ney, Matthew Nardi, op­posed the un­seal­ing of the re­ports, cit­ing pri­vacy is­sues. The at­tor­ney gen­eral also was con­cerned about an over­ar­ch­ing rul­ing and wanted to make sure that men­tal health ex­am­i­na­tions would re­main sealed in other cases.

Judge Cahill made it a point to say that his rul­ing only ad­dresses the par­tic­u­lar facts of this case and the bench trial but said that the dis­clo­sure of the re­ports would not vi­o­late Well­man’s pri­vacy.

“Dis­clo­sure of the court-or­dered re­ports will not vi­o­late Ms. Well­man’s con­sti­tu­tional right of pri­vacy to the ex­tent that those re­ports con­cern in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant to the de­ter­mi­na­tion of her fit­ness and pe­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity in the crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ing,” Cahill said.

The judge noted that the psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ports to de­ter­mine Well­man’s fit­ness for trial were per­formed at her re­quest and at the pub­lic’s ex­pense and that he re­viewed the re­ports be­fore en­ter­ing the ac­quit­tal.

The pub­lic has a con­sti­tu­tional right to ac­cess the three psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ports, un­less there is “a com­pelling in­ter­est” to seal them, he said. The stan­dard for seal­ing the re­ports re­quires the court to find that dis­clo­sure would re­sult in “ir­repara­ble dam­age.”

Well­man’s pri­vacy con­cerns did not rise to the com­pelling in­ter­est stan­dard.

“As to the in­for­ma­tion in the

re­ports that formed the ba­sis of the court-or­dered, med­i­cal-le­gal opin­ions re­gard­ing fit­ness and pe­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity, clo­sure will not serve a com­pelling in­ter­est be­cause Ms. Well­man’s pri­vacy con­cerns must yield to the le­git­i­mate pub­lic in­ter­est in the in­tegrity of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” the judge said.

While the re­ports should be un­sealed, Cahill said that there is “a valid pri­vacy con­cern and . . . no le­git­i­mate pub­lic in­ter­est” re­gard­ing per­sonal back­ground in­for­ma­tion that is “ir­rel­e­vant to her fit­ness or pe­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity” in the deaths of two women in the traf­fic crash.

“The court shall redact the ir­rel­e­vant per­sonal in­for­ma­tion but only such in­for­ma­tion that had no bear­ing or re­la­tion­ship to the is­sues re­solved in this case,” the judge said.

The redac­tions also will in­clude third par­ties “not be­fore the court in this pro­ceed­ing,” he said. In­di­vid­u­als not pub­licly con­nected to this case have a valid pri­vacy con­cern.

In his or­der, the judge specif­i­cally called for redact­ing sec­tions about Well­man’s child­hood and ado­les­cent years, adult re­la­tion­ships, names of fam­ily mem­bers and med­i­cal providers and in­sti­tu­tions.

Well­man, 34, of Waiehu was found not guilty of first-de­gree mur­der, two counts of sec­ond­de­gree mur­der and ex­ces­sive speed­ing.

The three doc­tors who con­ducted psy­chi­atric or psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions agreed that, at the time of the crash, she was af­fected by a phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­ease, disor­der or de­fect that sub­stan­tially im­paired her ca­pac­ity to con­form her con­duct to the re­quire­ments of the law.

A po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­ter­mined that Well­man was driv­ing a 2011 sil­ver Nis­san Al­tima that ran a red light while trav­el­ing 127 mph in the up­hill di­rec­tion on Haleakala High­way at 10:26 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2016. The sedan broad­sided a white 1998 Toy­ota pickup truck that was turn­ing left onto the high­way from Makani Road.

Pukalani res­i­dents Debi Wylie, 63, who was driv­ing the truck, and her pas­sen­ger and part­ner, Traci Wine­gar­ner, 57, died at the scene of the col­li­sion.

In Well­man’s non­jury trial Aug. 7, Cahill re­lied on facts that were agreed upon by the de­fense and pros­e­cu­tion in find­ing by a pre­pon­der­ance of the ev­i­dence that Well­man, at the time of the crash, was af­fected by a phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­ease, disor­der or de­fect that sub­stan­tially im­paired her ca­pac­ity to con­form her con­duct to the re­quire­ments of the law or her ca­pac­ity to ap­pre­ci­ate the wrong­ful­ness of her con­duct.

In his rul­ing Thurs­day, Cahill noted that the pro­ceed­ing was in fact an ac­tual trial and that the court had a con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion to ac­cept the stip­u­lated facts as con­clu­sively proven.

“The pub­lic’s in­ter­est in as­cer­tain­ing the ba­sis for the agree­ment by the state as to the stip­u­lated facts, and the court’s rul­ing, bol­sters the con­clu­sion that dis­clo­sure of the redacted re­ports is war­ranted,” he said.

In the ac­quit­tal, Well­man avoided a pos­si­ble life sen­tence if convicted in a jury trial. She cur­rently is in the Hawaii State Hospi­tal await­ing the con­clu­sion of a pro­ceed­ing to eval­u­ate her dan­ger­ous­ness in 2nd Cir­cuit Judge Richard Bis­sen’s court. His op­tions range from con­di­tional re­lease to com­mit­tal to the state hospi­tal.

At­tempts to reach state Health Depart­ment of­fi­cials and Nardi were un­suc­cess­ful Fri­day.

Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.


PE­TER CAHILLRules in fa­vor of The Maui News

Pukalani res­i­dents Debi Wylie (right) and part­ner Traci Wine­gar­ner died at the scene of the col­li­sion.

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