Defense team asks judge to sanction prosecutors, witnesses in SLA trial

Tuesday, June 6, 2000

A roundup of recent judicial gag orders.

California: Defense attorneys want prosecutors, Patty Hearst held in contempt
LOS ANGELES — Attorneys for former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson asked a judge last week to hold newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst Shaw in contempt of court for giving a magazine interview in apparent violation of the judge’s gag order. Attorneys J. Tony Serra and Shawn Chapman also asked that District Attorney Gil Garcetti, his deputy Michael Latin and witness James Bryan be cited for gag order violations. Superior Court Judge James Ideman gave prosecutors 10 days to reply to the motion. The June 2 request was an unusual twist for Olson’s lawyers, who have been trying to overturn the gag order on the grounds that it infringes on their constitutional rights of free speech. In the past, the prosecution has sought sanctions against the defense for violating the order. Olson, 53, formerly known as Kathleen Ann Soliah, is charged with planting pipe bombs under police cars 25 years ago as an act of revenge for the deaths of six SLA members. She remained a fugitive until last year when she was arrested in St. Paul.

In its papers, the defense said Hearst Shaw gave an interview to Talk magazine, which is owned by the Hearst media empire. Hearst Shaw, who was kidnapped by the SLA and later joined their cause, has made it clear she resents being dragged back into the spotlight. Defense lawyers said she told Talk magazine “a story purporting to be a history of how she met Sara Jane Olson; what participation Mrs. Olson had with the SLA; Mrs. Olson’s political and emotional motivations regarding the SLA and its individual members; and crimes which Hearst claimed were committed by Mrs. Olson.”

“Hearst should be ordered by this court to present herself for testimony regarding her illegal tantrum,” the lawyers said. The motion accused Latin of failing to inform Hearst Shaw of her obligation not to talk to the press, and it said Garcetti violated the gag order in an interview with National Public Radio. It also cited former police Officer James Bryan for filing and publicizing a slander suit against Olson in advance of his testimony. Associated Press

South Dakota: State high court upholds gag order
PIERRE — South Dakota news organizations have lost their battle against a judge’s order that prevents lawyers and others from talking about a criminal case involving two former reform school workers. The South Dakota Supreme Court last month unanimously upheld the gag order issued last December by Circuit Judge Ronald K. Miller. The gag order did not violate the news organizations’ constitutional right to freedom of the press, the high court said on May 11. The judge also did not exceed his authority in issuing the order, the justices said. Miller issued the gag order in the case of Tamara Wagaman and Raelene Layne, each charged with four counts of child abuse. Manslaughter charges against them in the July 21, 1999, death of Gina Score were dismissed, but the two women must stand trial on abuse charges involving Score and three other girls.

Miller’s gag order bars lawyers, law officers, public officials, witnesses and jurors from talking with reporters about evidence or testimony in the case. Extensive publicity would make it difficult to seat an impartial jury and ensure a fair trial, Miller said. State prosecutors requested the gag order. They argued that pretrial publicity about the case had been extensive and sensational and could complicate the selection of a jury. But the news organizations contended that the gag order violated First Amendment guarantees of free press and free speech. It interfered with efforts to gather news and inform the public about government, they said. The media challenging the order were the Associated Press, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, The (Mitchell) Daily Republic, KDLT-TV, EKLO-TV, KEVN-TV, KOTA-TV, KSFY-TV, KMIT radio, Sorenson Broadcasting and the South Dakota Newspaper Association. Although they did not request the gag order, attorneys for Wagaman and Layne support it. Associated Press

Mississippi: Judge muzzles murder trial participants
LEXINGTON — A judge has issued a gag order in the capital murder case of two Durant teen-agers accused of beating to death a 15-year-old Texas runaway. Holmes County Circuit Court Judge Jannie M. Lewis signed the order on May 26 “in an effort to ensure the defendants receive a fair and impartial trial.” Attorneys, their staff, witnesses and court personnel are prohibited from publicly commenting on the case. On March 20, a Holmes County grand jury indicted Elliott Culp, 17, and Travis Lowe, 15, on 13 counts in the Feb. 28 beating of Allen Scott of Saginaw, Texas, and the rape and aggravated assault of Scott’s 17-year-old girlfriend. Scott died March 2. Culp remains free on $350,000 bond. Lowe has no bond. A joint trial has been set for Oct. 16. Associated Press