Magazine article Editor & Publisher

First Amendment Group Derides Legislators' Lawyer/witness Gag Bills

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

First Amendment Group Derides Legislators' Lawyer/witness Gag Bills

Article excerpt

A SAN FRANCISCO state senator has made his contribution to the roiling controversy over the media's role in the O.J. Simpson murder case.

Sen. Quentin Kopp, regarded as a freedom of information advocate, has introduced a bill that would subject trial lawyers to professional discipline for making out-of-court statements which he or she "knows or reasonably should know will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing" a court proceeding.

The legislation, taken largely from the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, covers several statements made by both sides to the media in the Simpson proceedings.

Kopp has indicated he also would like a law preventing witnesses from selling their stories to the media before or during a trial -- as has happened in the Simpson case.

Such a measure already has been introduced in the Legislature by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. The State Bar Board of Governors voted to ask Kopp to hold off on his bill.

Although not mentioning the Simpson case, the action was understood in the legal community to reflect the board's misgivings about presenting a measure tied to a pending case.

The Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, quoted board member Michael Case as saying: "We want a fair rule for all cases -- not one tied to a particular case."

Attorney Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, acknowledged Kopp's authorship of a bill closing loopholes in California's open meetings law but termed his latest proposal an example of "misplaced concern. …

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