California judge tightens gag in SLA fugitive case

Friday, April 28, 2000

A roundup of recent judicial gag orders.

California: Judge issues more restrictive gag in SLA trial
LOS ANGELES — A judge who promised to modify a gag order in the Sara Jane Olson case has issued a more restrictive order. Superior Court Judge James Ideman set out nine separate areas in which parties, attorneys and witnesses are barred from commenting and said his order “is not limited to any geographical boundaries given the reach of modern communications.” “I am stunned,” said Carol Sobel, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who joined the defense in seeking modification of the original order. “When we were in Judge Ideman’s court (last month), he said he recognized his order was overbroad, and now he’s issued one that’s even more overbroad.” Under Ideman’s April 11 ruling, Sobel says, no party or witness can say anything remotely related to the case without being in violation of the order. “And this order is not limited to talking to the press,” she said, noting that attorneys talking to their friends could be in violation. Sobel, who does not consider herself or the ACLU a party to the case, says she is likely to appeal the order. Susan Jordan, the lawyer who represents Olson, declined comment.

At a hearing March 21, Ideman said: “There is no question the order needs to be modified. It is too broad. But I don’t intend to lift it entirely.” An advocate of the gag order was Deputy District Attorney Michael Latin, who wanted to prevent pretrial comments on the case including remarks on the credibility of his key witness, Patty Hearst Shaw, a convicted bank robber who has said she does not want to testify. Hearst herself has said her past makes her a less-than-credible witness. At last month’s hearing, Jordan asked Ideman to allow Olson to speak at fund-raising events and suggested the judge would not be able to stop public debate about why the case is being tried 25 years after the events in question. Olson, 53, is accused of conspiring to murder by putting bombs that didn’t explode under police cars in a failed 1975 plot to avenge six SLA members killed in a shootout. Formerly known as Kathleen Ann Soliah, she was a fugitive until her arrest last year in St. Paul, Minn.

The judge’s new gag order forbids parties, counsel and witnesses in the case from making statements to anyone relating to “the character, credibility, criminal record or reputation of any party, attorney or witness,” a provision applying to Hearst. It also bars statements about physical evidence, strengths or weaknesses of the case on either side, opinions on the defendant’s guilt or innocence, the possibility of a guilty plea, any information which might be inadmissible and “any personal opinion relating to the subject and/or scope of this … order and any rulings of the court.” Associated Press

Oklahoma: Defense attorneys want prosecutor punished in bombing trial
OKLAHOMA CITY — Attorneys for Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols want prosecutor Bob Macy sanctioned for allegedly violating a gag order in Nichols’ state murder trial. In comments made to CBS News during its coverage of the dedication of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, Macy said the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for the bombers. Nichols is charged with first-degree murder for the April 19,1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building which killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others. Macy said on April 25 that he was careful about what he said in interviews last week and never discussed evidence. Nichols, who is already serving a life sentence on federal conspiracy charges, has a preliminary hearing in the state trial scheduled in August. Timothy McVeigh, his former Army buddy, was convicted on federal murder and weapons counts and sentenced to death for the bombing. He has appealed. Associated Press

Arkansas: Participants told to keep mum in school-shooting civil trial
JONESBORO — A judge has issued a gag order in the civil trial of two boys who killed four students and a teacher at Westside Middle School two years ago. The boys were back in court yesterday for pretrial testimony in a lawsuit against them, their parents and one grandparent. Parties in the suit met behind closed doors at the Craighead County Courthouse Annex in Jonesboro. Circuit Judge David Burnett confirmed the meeting and also that he issued a gag order during the depositions out of security concerns. He said the public would be allowed to attend court hearings and the trial. Andrew Golden, 13, and Mitchell Johnson, 15, were present for the daylong proceeding, along with several members of their families and several lawyers. In 1998, Golden, then 11, and Johnson, then 13, were tried in juvenile court and found delinquent in the March 24 shooting deaths that year and the wounding of 10 others at the school. Johnson admitted to the killings and Golden tried unsuccessfully to plead innocent by reason of mental problems. Two lawsuits were filed in August 1998 in Craighead County Circuit Court by the families of the five people killed in the shootings. The suits name the boys, their parents and Golden’s grandfather, Douglas Golden, as defendants. Also named as defendants are Sporting Goods Properties Inc., formerly known as Remington Arms Co., Inc., and two “John Does” as successors in interest to Universal Firearms Co. The two suits have been consolidated. Golden and Johnson are being held at the Arkansas Youth Services Center at Alexander for an indeterminate period of time. Associated Press

Arizona: Judge refuses to silence prosecutors, police in Gravano case
PHOENIX – A judge refused to gag prosecutors and police in the case against Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. Gravano’s attorney Larry Hammond had requested that Judge Steve Sheldon of Maricopa County Superior Court issue the order, citing what Hammond said were improper comments to the media by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and Phoenix police. The former mob hit man was arrested in February, accused of helping turn a local ecstasy drug ring into a major statewide operation. Hammond said in court April 24 that police and prosecutors were incorrect in accusing Gravano of being the brains and money behind the operation and in saying his pool construction business, Marathon Development, was a front. He said such comments could affect Gravano’s chance at a fair trial. Hammond also said authorities incorrectly linked Gravano to a violent white supremacist gang founded by Michael Papa. Papa was also indicted in the ecstasy drug ring. Assistant Attorney General Paul McMurdie said that for the last six weeks, his office and the police have restricted their comments about Gravano to telling the media when public documents are released. In denying Hammond’s request, Sheldon said he didn’t have any reason to believe that the prosecutors’ policy would change. Gravano was arrested in February with 44 other members of an alleged ecstasy-peddling ring. Investigators say the ring sold $500,000 a week worth of the designer party drug. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Judge lifts muzzle in sexual misconduct trial
NORRISTOWN — A gag order has been lifted against the attorneys in the case of a state trooper accused of sexual misconduct. Marc R. Steinberg, who represents Trooper Michael Evans, had argued that the order was needed because of the publicity the case has generated. But Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter on April 24 rescinded the earlier gag order. “I’m surprised he ruled the way he did. It’s always amazing how much information flows out in a case like this,” Steinberg said. Evans, 32, is charged with 14 counts of sexual misconduct, including exposing himself to a teen-ager and coercing sexual favors from three women. The latter charges were filed two weeks ago. District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said the latest charges point out the need for prosecutors to be able to comment on the case. Authorities continue to investigate allegations against Evans. Associated Press