Utah lawmakers back effort to keep lid on Olympic security data

Friday, February 25, 2000

A roundup of recent legislative, judicial gag orders.

Utah: House approves gag order for Olympic workers

SALT LAKE CITY — Police, security officers and employees of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee could be jailed and fined for disclosing security arrangements for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games under a penalty being considered by the Utah Legislature. Although legislative attorneys warned the gag order could run afoul of the First Amendment, the House voted 67-0 yesterday to approve and send it to the Senate for final legislative action. Violations could bring a year in jail and $10,000 fine, and the gag order would remain in effect until three years after the Olympic Games. The House bill requires anyone involved in or knowledgeable of Olympic security procedures to sign a confidentiality agreement backed up by a criminal penalty — a class A misdemeanor.

The gag order is standard federal procedure for large events vulnerable to terrorism, said state Rep. Gary Cox, D-Kearns. The 1996 Atlanta Games were marred by a bombing that killed one person and injured more than 100. Authorities have yet to find the bomber. In Utah, law enforcement agencies requested the legislation, which instructs the state’s attorney general to draft the gag order. “It would be potentially disastrous for unauthorized individuals to know the location of all law enforcement personnel, the types of technology being used and the strategies planned to deal with incidents that might occur,” Cox said. House Bill 110 comes with a caveat — a “constitutional note” from legislative attorneys. They say the gag order could be challenged under the First Amendment. But the attorneys say a “compelling government interest” in the safety of the Olympic Games could override that concern. Associated Press

Louisiana: Federal appeals court refuses to lift orders

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court has refused to lift a gag order imposed on state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, who faces federal fraud charges. But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Brown’s request to speed up his appeal so another panel can consider the case in early April. The court also granted a motion filed by various media outlets to file written arguments in support of Brown’s request to throw out the gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola of Baton Rouge.

Brown, former Gov. Edwin Edwards and several others are scheduled to stand trial in June on federal charges stemming from the 1996 liquidation settlement of an insolvent insurance company. Polozola issued gag orders in the Brown case, and in the ongoing riverboat gambling corruption trial of Edwards and others, shortly after indictments were returned in both cases. The judge said he did so to ensure a fair trial. But Brown’s attorneys said he must be free to speak about the allegations against him to maintain public trust in his office.

The panel to which Brown’s case will be assigned is to decide whether oral arguments will be presented in the case the week of April 3, the 5th Circuit judges said. The panel assigned the gag order appeal in the ongoing Edwards trial has decided not to listen to oral arguments. Written arguments have been filed in both cases. The defendants in both cases claim the gag orders violate their Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial and their First Amendment free-speech rights. The media outlets contend the orders violate the First Amendment’s right of public access to information. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Judge removes muzzle in stadium case

PITTSBURGH — A judge lifted a gag order on Feb. 17 in a female contractor’s lawsuit accusing two contractors of subverting minority and female participation goals in the construction of two new sports stadiums. Allegheny County Judge Paul Lutty vacated the order after lawyers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argued that the order violated the First Amendment. Attorneys for the Greensburg Tribune-Review and for the steel contractors targeted by the suit joined the Post-Gazette in opposing the gag. Before lifting the order, Lutty said the gag order “was not an action by this court and this court alone. It was an action by this court and all the parties in the case.” Post-Gazette lawyer Scott Hare argued that interest in the case, stemming from public financing of the $513 million stadium projects and allegations of bogus minority and female participation, outweighed the desire of parties not to comment publicly about the case. In effect, a gag order is “telling the public it does not have a right to know,” Hare said. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette