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Aron set to give interview to Barbara Walters for ABC's '20/20' program; Judge refuses to grant gag order to her husband


ROCKVILLE -- Ruthann Aron will do on network television what she refused to do during her two murder-for-hire trials: tell her story.

A Montgomery County Circuit judge refused yesterday to block a jail house interview between Aron and Barbara Walters for the ABC news magazine "20/20."

Lawyers for Aron's estranged husband, Dr. Barry Aron, asked Judge D. Warren Donohue for a gag order, saying the publicity would taint the jury pool in the couple's civil lawsuits against each other.

But after an hourlong hearing, Donohue said he was denying the request because "a gag order would have a substantial effect on Ms. Aron's First Amendment rights and perhaps the rights of the press."

The judge said the couple had gotten "substantial publicity" and pretrial screening would weed out biased jurors.

Barry Aron, a prominent urologist, filed a $7 million suit last year claiming emotional distress brought on by his wife's actions and trials.

Ruthann Aron countersued for more than $24 million, accusing her husband of prescribing a dangerous combination of drugs and pushing her toward suicide.

The millionaire developer and former U.S. Senate candidate is serving three years in jail for trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer who testified against her in a civil trial.

She pleaded not criminally responsible -- Maryland's insanity defense -- in her first trial, which ended in a hung jury March 30. In the second trial, she switched her plea to no contest minutes before the case went to the jury July 30.

Aron is one of about 50 female inmates at the jail off Interstate 270 in Rockville. She is a "model inmate," cleaning cells as part of the maintenance crew and taking Spanish lessons, said Russell Hamill, acting director of corrections.

Barry Aron's lawyers said their client was a victim who deserved protection from the court until after the civil cases are resolved.

"If it's '20/20' today, will it be Jerry Springer tomorrow?" asked Stuart Herschfeld. "Why now? Is it sweeps month? I don't know."

Stephen Friedman, his other lawyer, said Ruthann Aron was "arguing out both sides of her mouth," fighting the gag order in this case while asking for one in the couple's divorce case.

Friedman said details of the couple's life together never came out in the criminal trials, information his client would prefer not to have broadcast. He also reminded Donohue that pretrial screening in Aron's first trial had failed to detect the juror who lied under oath about her criminal background and employment history. That juror caused the mistrial.

But Donohue responded that the problem wasn't the amount of publicity, it was the "hidden agenda" of the juror.

Ruthann Aron's lawyer and a lawyer for ABC asked Donohue to protect the First Amendment.

"We think Ms. Aron is a victim, too," said lawyer Barry Nace. "But she still has a right to free speech."

A spokesman for the jail said the administration will review the request from "20/20" and work out a schedule that accommodates ABC while maintaining security.

"To me, the real story is the drain these cases have on the staff and facility," said Eric Seleznow. "Naturally, people here are interested and excited, but they have a job to do."

The guards have been ordered not to ask for autographs or engage in small talk, he said.

"The staff is a little bit on edge. It's a challenge," said Seleznow. "Everybody looks the same in a green jumpsuit, and that helps."

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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