During his highly successful five-decade career as a plaintiff’s attorney, Stephen L. Snyder was known for an uncanny knack for winning over juries.

Now, as his own criminal extortion case moves forward, Snyder, 76, is apparently seeking to put those skills to the ultimate test: representing himself.

Snyder’s case has been pending for more than three years, with the case stalled as he and others appealed to a federal appellate court to block grand jury subpoenas. Last week, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied that appeal.

That returns the case to U.S. District Court, where Snyder’s defense attorneys have been trying to withdraw from the case. Though those efforts have been under seal, Judge George L. Russell III offered a clue on Tuesday when he referred the case to a magistrate judge for a “Faretta hearing.”

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A Faretta hearing is named after a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding a defendant requesting to represent themselves.

Snyder did not return a message seeking comment. His lead defense attorney, Arnold Weiner, declined comment, saying the matters were under seal.

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.

Hospital officials said they became uncomfortable and reached out to the FBI, which 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 indictment on attempted extortion charges was handed down in October of 2020.

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Snyder has asked that the case be dismissed, accusing prosecutors of misconduct. He’s 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.

The appeal to the Fourth Circuit revolved around grand jury subpoenas related to those proceedings. The court’s opinion last week shed some new light on what has been taking place under seal.

A discovery dispute arose early in the extortion case, with Snyder contending that as long as he did not request discovery materials from the government, he did not have to respond to the government’s discovery requests.

“The government was incensed by Doe’s [Snyder’s] position, stating at a hearing on the issue: ‘To say I don’t want your documents, I want to be surprised so that I can surprise you, is just bonkers,’” the appellate judges wrote in their summary of the case.

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But Russell declined to require Snyder to engage in reciprocal discovery, saying he “could not ‘require the defendant to provide information to the government that the government would subsequently be able to use in its case against the defendant,’ given that the government bears the ultimate burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and a defendant need not present any of his own evidence to prevail over the government’s case.”

But Russell added that Snyder “should understand ‘the very thin waters that [he is] treading into.’”

Two months later, prosecutors then went to the grand jury, issuing subpoenas to two law firms and an attorney. Though all names were stripped from the appellate proceedings and the judges’ opinion, at a hearing, one of Snyder’s defense attorneys said the matter concerned attorney Andrew Graham and his firm, Kramon and Graham, as well as attorney Eric Yaffe and his firm, Lathrop GPM. He also named a woman who was identified in the appellate opinion as Snyder’s client in the organ transplant case.

Snyder argued to Russell that the government was “abusing the grand jury process by using the grand jury subpoena power for the dominant purpose of preparing for motions and trial, and for gathering evidence, on an already pending indictment.” His client also moved to intervene and to quash the subpoenas.

Russell determined that communications between Snyder and his client were discoverable because the client had waived her right to assert attorney-client privilege when she disclosed “substantive communications” to the Attorney Grievance Commission investigators during that investigation. And Russell found that the crime-fraud exception also applied.

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That prompted an appeal to the Fourth Circuit in June of 2022. In an opinion issued Nov. 22, a three-judge panel, consisting of Judge Roger Gregory, James Andrew Wynn and Henry F. Floyd, rejected the argument that prosecutors were abusing the grand jury process, saying “the productions sought are wholly different from the disclosures sought by the government in the criminal proceeding.”

“Our own review of the government’s ex parte submission reifies our confidence that a legitimate investigative purpose underpinned the subpoenas,” they wrote.

The judges referred to Snyder’s proposed consultancy as a “scheme,” and that his explanation of his motivations has changed positions depending on the context — “when coercing UMMS to pay up, his story was that the consultancy was borne of the settlement, and thus manifested because of the prospect of litigation.”

“But when seeking to avoid potential ethical exposure arising from such a substantial personal stake in a painstakingly contrived outcome, he swore that the consultancy was a separate beast with absolutely no bearing on his representation of” his client, they wrote. “Certainly, a district court does not clearly err when relying on sworn statements over negotiation-driven puffery.”

If Snyder proceeds as his own attorney, he’s already irked Russell, the judge overseeing the case. In March, Russell admonished Snyder for contacting his chambers directly instead of communicating through his attorneys.

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Russell said Snyder was “disorganized and emotional” on the call. He noted that Snyder apologized, but said he would consider sanctions or holding Snyder in contempt if he contacted his chambers again.

“I was extremely troubled by it,” Russell said.

Snyder agreed to a temporary suspension of his law license after he was indicted, but earlier this year asked to be reinstated, which was granted. On Oct. 31, he filed his first medical malpractice lawsuit in four years, alleging negligence in a case against Johns Hopkins Hospital.

justin.fenton@thebaltimorebanner.com

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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