Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Publicity Agents" Gagged In Stanford Criminal Case

In August I blogged about the gag order issued by Judge Reggie Walton in the Roger Clemens perjury case. Grounded Rocket. In a subsequent post, I discussed that Judge Walton relied upon Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966) as authority for issuing the order. Pre-Trial Publicity, the First Amendment, and "The Fugitive" - Part One, Gagging the Parties and Controlling the Media. Now, in another high profile matter, participants in the case of Sir Robert Allen Stanford, the billionaire financier who is scheduled to stand trial early next year on fraud charges related to an alleged $7 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, also have been gagged.

On September 30, 2010, Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner, acting sua sponte, issued a gag order prohibiting public comment from Stanford and his co-defendants, their attorneys, their "publicity agents," and all others associated with the case. In his six-page order, Judge Hittner took judicial notice of the extensive media coverage concerning Stanford's indictment and trial, and that some of the trial participants "have demonstrated a willingness to 'try this case in the press.'" Judge Hittner determined that it was necessary to issue the gag order because "there is a substantial likelihood that extrajudicial commentary by trial participants might taint the jury pool and undermine a fair trial," and that he had "an affirmative duty," under Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966), "to take preventative measures in order to avert prejudicial pretrial publicity." Therefore, Judge Hittner ordered that the prosecutors and their staff; the alleged victims and all other designated or potential witness; the defendants and their attorneys and staff; and the defendants' agents, "including publicity agents, shall not give, authorize, or permit any extrajudicial statement to any person associated with any public communications media relating to the trial, the parties, the witnesses, or the issues in this case" that is not already of public record and that could potentially interfere with a fair trial.

Since Judge Hittner's order was issued sua sponte, it is a fair assumption that he read or saw something in the media coverage about the case that he did not like. Not only did he specifically include the defendants' "publicity agents" in his order, he also defined prejudicial information to include "information and statements intended to influence public opinion regarding the merits of this case."

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