US v. Romo
No. 04-30131 (7-5-05). Although the defendant was serving time, he still remained politically engaged. Unfortunately, his strong opinions moved him to write a threatening letter to the White House stating that he was going to kill the President, and that he would do so by firing into his head. (Ed note: GOP leaders that obliquely called for the death of federal judges were not so charged). Defendant told his counselor about this letter, which lead the counselor to tell the officers, and an investigation preceded that ended up with a conviction. The defendant asserted the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The 9th found it didn't apply because the counselor had to be engage in counseling, and this disclosure was not during a scheduled formal session by in conversation. Moreover, the counselor did many things at the institution, including acting as case manager and setting up activities. Since the conversation feel outside of treatment, it wasn't protected. The 9th did find error in allowing the head of mail screening at the White House to opine that such a letter with such a threat would be considered a threat. This was the ultimate issue, and the characterization of it as a serious threat was one the jury could determine without expert opinions. Nonetheless, any error was harmless. Interestingly, the factual letter was lost in a mound of mail that as warehoused after Sept 11th and couldn't be found. The evidence of a threat came from defendant's statements.