Roundup: Former Louisiana governor fined for violating gag order

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported May 26, 2002, that former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards had decided not to appeal his $1,700 fine for violating a gag order in the Cascade Insurance Co. corruption case. It would cost more than that to fight the citation for contempt of court, Edwards said. “We just decided to let it go.”

U.S. District Judge Edith Clement fined former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards $1,700 Aug. 25 and held him in contempt of court for violating a gag order in the Cascade Insurance Co. corruption case. Clement fined Edwards $100 for each of 17 words he spoke to the media Aug. 23 after a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Edwards and state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown are accused of shielding the owner of Cascade Insurance Co. from paying millions of dollars in a legal settlement with the state insurance guaranty fund that covered claims after the company went out of business in 1996. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 18 in Baton Rouge. The judge warned that future offenses would be punished by fines of $1,000 a word. Clement fined Edwards on the same day that Brown's attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the gag order violates the commissioner's First Amendment right to free speech. Also, a man identified only as “John Doe” asked in a court motion in the case that conversations with his lawyer secretly taped by FBI agents investigating Edwards be withheld from public record. Prosecutors have tapes of the conversations, but the man is not a witness or a defendant in the case, according to the motion. Associated Press

Utah: Gag order issued in Olympic bribery case

Federal magistrate Ronald Boyce has issued a gag order for defense lawyers and federal prosecutors in the upcoming Olympic corruption trial in Salt Lake City. Prosecutors have grumbled for months about defiant statements from the defense camp for indicted Salt Lake bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson. Boyce's Aug. 24 order was filed a day before the Salt Lake Organizing Committee debated whether to cut payments for Welch and Johnson's defense. In a move reserved for high-profile cases, Boyce served notice he intends to enforce a courthouse rule that prohibits defense and government lawyers from saying anything having a “substantial likelihood of preventing a fair trial or directly impeding the due administration of justice.” He gave lawyers for both sides a week to promise in writing that they will obey his order. Welch and Johnson were indicted July 20 by a federal grand jury on charges of paying $1 million to International Olympic Committee members who in 1995 awarded Salt Lake the 2002 Winter Games. A trial set for Oct. 16 is likely to be delayed for months as the bid leaders prepare their defense. Associated Press

California: Assembly backs new open primary rule

California would replace the blanket primary thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court with a more limited open primary under a bill backed yesterday by the Assembly. Voters in 1996 approved the blanket primary that allowed voters in 1998 and last March to cast ballots for candidates in any party, regardless of their own party registration. However, the high court said such a blanket primary system violated the parties' First Amendment rights of association and determination of their own candidates. The proposal approved 62-3 by the Assembly would let voters unaffiliated with any party vote in one party's primary if that party's rules allowed such votes. Assemblyman Jack Scott, D-Altadena, says the bill is supported by the Democratic governor, Gray Davis, Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones and the leaders of the state Democratic and Republican parties. The bill now returns to the Senate for a vote on amendments. Associated Press

Alabama: Appeals court overturns judge's ban on interviews

An Alabama appeals court has overturned a Bessemer judge's order banning television stations from airing interviews with witnesses involved in the Sarah Crawford murder trial. Circuit Judge Dan King on Aug. 24 ordered four Birmingham television news operations not to air an interview conducted with a defense witness. King also placed a gag order on lawyers and ordered that no interviews conducted with parties in the case since June 10 be aired. The Court of Criminal Appeals on Aug. 25 ordered King to rescind his order after Fox 6 and WIAT Channel 42 challenged it. The appeals court order came the day the trial ended, with the jury convicting Crawford, 24, of manslaughter for the fatal beating of her 22-month-old daughter, Brittany. Associated Press

Virginia: State launches new FOI advisory council

Virginia's new Freedom of Information Advisory Council opened only two weeks ago and is already receiving an average of four or five inquires a day. The new state FOI office and 12-member council, approved by the state General Assembly this winter, are designed to offer fast, non-binding interpretations of the state's 32-year-old Freedom of Information law. The office will also coordinate training sessions for government employees, publish educational materials and encourage statewide compliance with state laws governing meetings and records. Gov. Jim Gilmore recently appointed Maria J.K. Everett, an assembly staff attorney, as the council's first executive director. The council elected Del. Chip Woodrum, the Roanoke Democrat who led efforts to create a state FOI council, as its chairman. “The big challenge is to get the word out,” said Frosty Landon, a council member and executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “We've had a couple of FOI lawsuits filed in the last month that could have been worked out with informal mediation and non-binding opinions from this office.” Freedom Forum Online staff

Arkansas: School district appeals ruling in FOI case

The Valley View School District in Jonesboro has appealed a ruling in which a judge said it violated the state Freedom of Information Act by holding a student suspension hearing behind closed doors. Circuit Judge John Fogleman on June 30 ruled in favor of The Jonesboro Sun in a lawsuit against the district. The newspaper sued after the school board held a closed hearing on an appeal of the suspension, contending that state law provides for closed sessions only when a student has been expelled. Under the law, a suspension from school cannot exceed 10 days and an expulsion exceeds 10 days. In his ruling, Fogleman cited a 1997 revision of the law that “defined suspension and expulsion in making hearings closed or public.” He said his personal belief is that the Legislature did not intend to open the sessions. The school district's appeal will go before the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Associated Press

Kentucky: Newspaper appeals ruling on county budget as public record

The Kentucky Post has appealed a ruling by the state attorney general's office that a county budget is not a public record until adopted by the Fiscal Court. In documents filed Aug. 25 in Campbell Circuit Court, the newspaper's attorney, Mark Guilfoyle, called the decision an absurdity that would cut the public out of an important governmental function — deciding how tax money is spent. In May, Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery delayed the public release of a copy of the 2000 budget he already had distributed to members of the Fiscal Court. Pendery argued that his budget was a preliminary draft and not subject to the state Open Records Law. The newspaper objected and sought an opinion from Chandler, whose office agreed with the county. Calling the budget a “preliminary” document is a key issue under Kentucky law because those documents are exempt from public review. But Guilfoyle argued that Pendery's proposed budget was “the final agency action” of the judge-executive and thus open to the public. Associated Press

Arizona: Woman arrested over 'vulgar' bumper sticker gets $30,000

A Mesa woman arrested for what a police officer said was a vulgar bumper sticker settled a $300,000 lawsuit for $30,000. The officer stopped Amber Tyler, 21, in Gilbert in December 1998 on suspicion of speeding and then ordered her to remove or cover a sticker on her bumper that read “if this music is too loud, you're too (expletive) old.” Tyler put tape over the word to which the officer, Michael Bishop, objected. A few days later, Bishop saw Tyler's car in the parking lot of a school at which she worked and discovered she had removed the tape. Bishop then arrested her and charged her with disorderly conduct and interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational facility. Gilbert town attorneys reviewing the charges found them inappropriate and dismissed them. In December 1999, Tyler filed a $300,000 lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, claiming her arrest was grossly negligent, reckless and malicious and caused her physical discomfort and emotional distress. She also claimed the arrest violated her First Amendment right to free speech. Associated Press

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