Ten years ago, on April 12, 1997, the body of Vicki Lynn Bader was found buried in a shallow grave in Maine. The following year, her husband, Stratham attorney Seth Bader, was convicted of murdering Vicki.

Bader had enlisted a son to help bury Vicki after the murder. However, after a fallout between father and son, the son led police to the grave eight months after the murder.

A final chapter was written in the case last year when the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the $4.9 million wrongful death case against Seth Bader by Vicki's estate. The case has good lessons for us all, especially Mr. Bader, who brought the appeal from his jail cell.

Many grounds were raised in the appeal. Most were quickly denied. However, two bits of pretzel-logic were nicely untwisted by the court.

Bader claimed the trial court was wrong to refuse to allow him to argue that he did not murder Vicki. In the civil case, the court ruled that since Bader was convicted of murder, the doctrine of "collateral estoppel" prevented him from turning around in the civil case and arguing that he did not commit the murder.

The "collateral estoppel" rule takes up much time in law school books and lectures. What it boils down to is that once a particular issue is argued, concerning the same facts, and decided by a proper court, that issue can't be re-argued.

Part of Bader's argument was that since he invoked his right not to testify at his criminal trial, he was deprived of a full and fair opportunity to litigate his guilt or innocence. The court rejected that idea.

True, a criminal defendant has an absolute right to refuse to take the stand in his own defense and cannot be penalized for doing so. However, a criminal defendant cannot exercise the right not to testify, and then claim that he was deprived of a full and fair opportunity to defend himself.

The defendant had every opportunity in the criminal trial to invoke the best trial strategy that he and his attorney could devise.

It's not as bad as the Menendez brothers in California, convicted of murdering their parents and then seeking the sympathy of the court during sentencing because they were orphans. However, the bravado in this case is close. And we're not done with bravado.

Another jail-cell argument by Seth Bader was that when it comes to enforcing the civil judgment against him, he is entitled to the homestead exemption. Under this statutory protection, "Every person is entitled to $100,000 worth of his or her homestead, or of his or her interest therein, as a homestead." RSA 480:1. Generally, the homestead right protects one's home from attachment.

Um, excuse me, the court seemed to say, your "home" is prison | for life. Not that nice suburban hangout where you used to mow the lawn.

Their words are much more scholarly than mine, but the decision did say that if a defendant is sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, "the defendant's homestead right has been extinguished."

Pass the pretzels. The decision is Administrator of the Estate of Vicki Lynn Bader v. Seth Bader, decided August 2006.

In the interest of full disclosure, as they say, a paralegal with whom I worked for many years also worked part time for Mr. Bader, during the period in which Vicki disappeared. I never met the man. Hearing the paralegal's stories, and as an avid "true-crime" reader, I followed the case.

My former paralegal now thinks all attorneys are nuts. She's told me that to my face. She and her husband attended my wedding last year and brought a nice gift. So on the scale of nuts, I must not be too bad.



Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover, Mass. He is a member of the American Association for Justice and the New Hampshrie Trial Lawyers Association. Send questions to andrew@attorney-myers.com.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you