Once-mighty malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder appeared in court Friday in federal extortion case, at times weeping and describing himself as a broken, but also flashing his trademark feistiness and charm.

“I’m really preparing to win, and not taking it lightly,” Snyder told a patient U.S. District Court Judge Deborah L. Boardman.

Snyder, 76, appeared alone for a status hearing in the case, which has been simmering for four years. He had opted in recent months to represent himself, but at Friday’s hearing Boardman convinced him to agree to obtain standby counsel.

Snyder said he was confident in his abilities to speak to a jury, but conceded he was “terrible” when it came to the procedures of criminal court — though he worked as a prosecutor early in this career, the rest was spent involved with civil litigation. He repeatedly veered off course, discussing how the case had impacted his life and attempting to argue why it should be thrown out.

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“I’m, like, lost, to be honest,” he said at one point while holding back tears. “I had a 53-year stellar record. ... This has caused havoc for me.”

Prior to the start of the hearing, Snyder could be heard asking procedural questions of Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Phelps and taunting him. He asked whether he would be able to know the government’s witnesses prior to trial, and whether he was allowed to talk with his own witnesses prior to calling them in court.

Snyder told Phelps he was in poor health. “And you guys did it to me,” he said. “For no reason.”

At another point, he told Phelps, who has remained on the case after the departure of another prosecutor, that he believed Phelps would not have charged the case on his own. “No doubt in my mind,” he said. “Do you hear me?”

Snyder’s legal troubles stem from a 2018 effort to squeeze $25 million from the University of Maryland Medical System after he represented a number of clients who had experienced problems from organ transplants. Federal prosecutors say Snyder asked for the payment as part of a sham consulting agreement, saying he would hold off on a smear campaign regarding the hospital’s transplant program.

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Hospital officials said they became uncomfortable and reached out to the FBI, who recorded a series of phone calls and a meeting between Snyder and the hospital.

The case started as a disciplinary matter brought by the Attorney Grievance Commission, but a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on attempted extortion charges in October 2020.

Snyder has asked that the case be dismissed, accusing prosecutors of misconduct. He said they selectively edited his comments, “intentionally tampered” with his efforts to make sure the agreement with the hospital was legal and ethical, and refused to turn over exculpatory materials.

The Banner previously reported that federal authorities were conducting a separate criminal investigation into Snyder allegedly directing an attorney to destroy a memo.

After winning the ability to represent himself, Snyder has filed motions in which he failed to remove editing remarks and requesting documents be held under seal without following the required procedures. He asked that the judge handling the case, George L. Russell III, recuse himself, which Russell denied, then transferred the case anyway to Boardman weeks later.

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When Boardman took the bench, Snyder greeted her: “I must tell you, it’s nice to see your face.”

Snyder said he was in poor health and said he had spent $20 million in legal fees related to the case.

As Snyder struggled to discuss the affects of the case on him, Boardman questioned whether he could be an effective advocate for himself.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time successfully against the best lawyers in the country,” Snyder said.

Boardman said Snyder could continue to represent himself, request that a lawyer be appointed to represent him, or have stand-by counsel. Snyder said he was “considered pretty well-off in the community” and would be “embarrassed” to have a public defender, and was adamant that he wanted to be able to make his own arguments to the judge and jury.

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But the process, he said, “is killing me,” he said. “I’m not the Steve Snyder I used to be.”

Still, he said he believed he will convince Boardman to dismiss the case.

“I think I’m going to win it,” he said. “I think you’re going to conclude no mens rea, no criminal intent.”

“I enjoyed being here,” he added.

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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