Attorney hushed after widower changes mind

James Hannah and James Hannah

DAYTON, Ohio — A man has changed his mind about refusing to grant permission for his deceased wife’s attorney to answer questions about the disappearance of a 9-year-old girl.

Shane Franks at first gave his consent to former federal public defender Beth Lewis to share what his wife may have known about Erica Baker’s disappearance.

According to a court document, police received information that indicated the man’s wife and other people may have been in a van that struck and killed the girl.

On Friday, after he was sentenced to five years in prison for felonious assault and other charges unrelated to Erica’s disappearance, Shane Franks said he was withdrawing his permission for Lewis to answer questions.

However, Misty Baker, Erica’s mother, said she received a letter from Franks yesterday in which he apologized for refusing permission and said he is giving consent for Lewis to answer questions.

“I am truly sorry for the trouble and heartache I have caused you,” Franks wrote.

The Montgomery County prosecutor’s office said Franks signed an affidavit yesterday affirming his permission for Lewis to answer questions.

“He said he was angry that he had just been sentenced to prison and was lashing out,” Prosecutor Carley Ingram said. “But he knew that night he had made a big mistake.”

Lewis has refused to tell prosecutors what she knows about the case and is appealing a judge’s order to force her to testify.

Ohio is one of the few states that allow a surviving spouse to give permission for an attorney to reveal privileged conversations between lawyers and clients. Lewis has argued that allowing clients’ discussions to be disclosed after their deaths would keep them from being forthcoming with their attorneys.

Erica disappeared in 1999 while walking her dog in suburban Kettering. No one has been charged in her disappearance; her body has not been found. After Jan Franks died of a drug overdose in 2001, her husband waived her attorney-client privilege. A judge ruled Lewis in contempt in 2002 for refusing to answer grand jury questions. The court has delayed imposing any sentence during appeals.

“I know that Friday after Shane revoked the waiver, he begin to feel very badly,” said Pam Schmidt, Erica’s grandmother. “He prayed about it and wrote a letter to the family.”

Greg Baker, Erica’s father, applauded Franks’ decision.

“That means we’re another baby step closer to getting this resolved,” Baker said. “Erica didn’t do anything to him. She had nothing to do with putting him in the position that he was in.”

Messages seeking comment were left for Martin Pinales, Shane Franks’ attorney; and Lawrence Greger, Lewis’ attorney.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an Ohio Supreme Court decision that said that Lewis must disclose what Jan Franks told her about Erica’s disappearance.

However, that ruling has not gone into effect because Lewis’ attorneys had also transferred the case to federal court in Dayton, arguing that federal laws — not those of Ohio — apply in this case of attorney-client privilege because Lewis was a federal officer.