THE THREAT OF a gag order hung over the O.J. Simpson murder trial last week, as well as a ruling that all motions in the case be filed under seal.
At this writing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito took under submission arguments by attorneys for the media and the American Civil Liberties Union that he reconsider his proposed plan to prevent anyone connected with the murder investigation from publicly discussing evidence.
Simpson is accused of the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
The Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of Ito's tentative order, which revealed the judge was angry that information continued to be given to the media by lawyers and others connected to the case, which will go to trial Sept. 26 instead of Sept. 19 as originally scheduled.
In court Aug. 31, Ito expressed irritation about the Times' front-page story that day about his seeming intention of information control.
His proposed order said, in part, "A trial court not only has the right but the affirmative duty to protect the right to a fair trial. In order to fulfill this duty, given the amount of media interest and coverage this case has ignited, the court must use its inherent authority to control the judicial proceedings."
Any violation of the order would "incur sanctions," which could, under California law, include fines or being held in contempt.
Attorney Kelli Sager, representing the Times, Associated Press, Gannett, CBS and other media, argued against the order on First Amendment grounds and the public's right to know.
She conceded there have been widespread press reports about the trial, but said, "The answer is more speech, not less speech .... If all the evidence is out there, the jury can focus on the evidence and neither side needs to be worried about prejudice."
"So do I just ignore my obligation and just hope I can do a very in-depth voir dire [jury selection]?" Ito asked.
Sager replied there is case precedent for admonishing lawyers or taking other action against them if the court believes they are "acting inappropriately."
The lawyer also asked Ito to make clear his intention on the issue of sealed motions. She said her clients had informed her that court personnel already had started sealing motions.
ACLU attorney Douglas Mirell expressed doubt that there is a "clear and present danger" of tainting jurors with pretrial publicity. …