Former Montgomery County Planning Board member Ruthann Aron will represent herself at a hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon in Montgomery County Circuit Court as she attempts to have her no contest plea overturned in one of the county’s more memorable criminal cases.
Aron, who also sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1994, said Thursday she hasn’t hired anyone else to represent her after her former attorney, Victor Wainstein, stopped representing her in June.
In the spring, Wainstein filed a petition for “writ of error coram nobis” in circuit court, asking a judge to reconsider Aron’s no contest plea in the case, in which she stood trial for trying to hire a hitman to kill her husband, Barry Aron, and Arthur Kahn, a D.C. attorney who testified against her in court. She received a three-year jail sentence and five years of probation as part of her plea agreement during a second trial in the notorious 1998 case that featured police tape recordings, possibly poisonous chili and a controversial landfill owner turned informant.
Then in June, Wainstein walked away. He filed a document in court asking to be withdrawn from the case, citing “irreconcilable differences” that have created “conflicts of interest” between him and Aron.
Aron, 73, filed a response in an attempt to have the court deny his request to withdraw, saying she was out of town when Wainstein decided to stop representing her. She notes that she paid him “considerable and substantial money” and was his only client. She wrote that he “suddenly bolted and quit” without providing her with a debriefing about ongoing matters in the case. The court ultimately granted Wainstein’s motion to withdraw from the case.
Earlier this month, Aron also asked the court for a 60-day extension to help prepare for the hearing, but Judge Sharon Burrell denied the request last week and maintained the Aug. 26 date.
On Thursday, Aron told Bethesda Beat she was disappointed in Wainstein’s withdrawal as well as the judge’s decision to not grant her an extension. She added that she may pursue legal action against Wainstein.
“I’m dealing with a lot of different issues separately, including his totally unethical departure from this project,” Aron said.
Aron previously told The Washington Post she hired Wainstein because he had agreed to set aside other clients and work only for her. He would arrive “every morning at her rented townhouse” in Gaithersburg and work to help her rebrand her image, according to the paper.
Attempts to contact Wainstein Thursday were unsuccessful.
If the court grants Aron’s petition, it could set up a third trial in the case. The first one ended in a mistrial.
Aron’s petition claims that one of her attorneys in the second trial, Barry Helfand, who joined her legal team on the last day of the trial, coerced her into the plea agreement. Helfand, a Rockville defense attorney, represented her in the first trial, then Aron fired him and hired new attorneys for the second trial.
Helfand told Bethesda Beat in March that Aron asked him to come back to negotiate the plea deal just before closing arguments in the second trial. He said he was offended that Aron would think he represented her poorly and called her allegation that he interfered with her case “a blatant lie.”
In May, Montgomery County prosecutors wrote in a response to Aron’s petition that she failed to provide evidence that Helfand coerced her into making the plea.