Washington Post

Morgan Describes Advising Md. Defendant

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 3, 2002; Page B01
Washington Post

She took the witness stand with the assured calm of a woman used to the spotlight.

Chevy Chase plastic surgeon Elizabeth Morgan gained worldwide notoriety in the 1980s after she went to jail and then fled to New Zealand rather than allow her daughter unsupervised visits with her father, who Morgan believed was sexually abusing the child.

Yesterday, Morgan was on the witness stand again. This time she was testifying in Montgomery County Circuit Court about advice she gave in e-mails and over lunch last year to Elsa D. Newman, a Bethesda lawyer charged with conspiring with a friend to kill Newman's estranged husband in January. Her advice: Obey the court orders, flee or kill the abuser.

In the years since her own high-profile court battle, Morgan has become an advocate for parents of abused children and gives speeches about her ordeal, including one at a women's forum in Bowie that Newman attended shortly before her husband's shooting.

Morgan told jurors she believed Newman's contention that her husband, Arlen Slobodow, was abusing their two boys.

"I told her what I tell everybody when they contact me," Morgan said. "You don't have any good choices. You can say, 'I've been to court, and I will obey the court and send my child back.' The other thing you can do is defy the court order. That usually means running. . . . The third option is to take the law into your own hands and attack the abuser."

In an earlier e-mail to Newman, Morgan said the third option was to "kill" the abuser, according to Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree. Yesterday, Winfree asked Morgan whether she advocated violence.

Not at all, Morgan responded. She said she uses that example to explain to parents why they "have no good choices."

Newman's former attorney testified yesterday that Newman "idolized" Morgan and idealized the radical way Morgan had dealt with her allegedly abusive husband.

Troubles surfaced early in Newman's marriage to Slobodow, a video producer she wed in 1990, according to testimony. Newman's close relationship with her best friend and college roommate, State Department employee Margery L. Landry, was a constant strain, Slobodow has testified.

After Newman and Slobodow separated in 1999, Landry and Newman waged a "relentless" campaign to discredit Slobodow, filing court papers alleging that the boys said he had abused them, according to Winfree.

Newman's former divorce lawyer, Stephen A. Friedman, testified that he believed there is evidence that Slobodow had been abusing at least one of the boys, citing a report from Children's Hospital.

Friedman said Newman threatened to kill her husband, herself or her children if she lost custody. In September, Friedman went to a judge and asked to be recused from her divorce case after Newman made a particularly "chilling" threat against her boys, he said.

Newman "gets real calm, tilts her head back and says in this sing-songy voice, 'You know I don't have to kill both kids,' " Friedman testified.

Upon hearing of the threats, a Montgomery County judge awarded Slobodow full custody of the children, allowing Newman only short supervised visits.

In desperation, Newman turned to Landry, her "alter ego," prosecutors have said. In January, Landry allegedly crept into Slobodow's bedroom as he lay sleeping, pulled him from the bed and shot him in the leg. In the ensuing struggle, Slobodow was able to rip off his attacker's ski mask and allegedly recognized Landry. Landry's trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder is scheduled for later this year.

Morgan said that after Newman was arrested in connection with the attack on Slobodow, Morgan accepted collect telephone calls from Newman from jail. Morgan also put $100 in Newman's jailhouse account so she could buy soap and other necessities from the canteen, she said.

But the calls became more frequent and stressful, Morgan said.

"I didn't feel I was effective in helping her," Morgan said. "I told her I'd have to stop taking her calls."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company