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Gag Order in O.J. Case

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Gag Order in O.J. Case

Article excerpt

THE JUDGE IN O.J. Simpson's civil trial has issued a gag order so restrictive that one First Amendment attorney termed it "wildly overbroad."

The order by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki was immediately challenged in a suit by several media organizations, including the Los Angeles Times,Associated Press, NBC, CNN and Copley News Service.

Under Fujisaki's order, all attorneys, witnesses and litigants are forbidden to talk about the case for the duration of the trial, scheduled to start on Sept. 17 in Santa Monica.

If the order sticks, the atmosphere of the civil case would be far different from Simpson's criminal trial, during which prosecution and defense lawyers spoke freely almost daily to the more than 1,000 reporters covering it. The cycle inspired critics to call it a"circus."

The Times reported that attorneys emerging from an hour-long session in the judge's chambers, where they were informed of the gag, declined to disclose that the judge had postponed the trial eight days from its scheduled Sept. 9 opening. Lawyers for both sides reportedly agreed with the delay.

Fujisaki issued the gag order unilaterally, without motions for it from either side.

At this writing, Fujisaki had not decided whether to allow cameras in the courtroom, as the media had requested. A hearing on the issue was scheduled later in the week.

Simpson is being sued for damages by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, who were stabbed to death in June 1994. Simpson, a former football star and actor, was acquitted of the murders in a sensational trial.

Appealing the gag order to Fujisaki, media attorney Kelli L. Sager, of Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles, said it violated U.S. and California constitutions because it "was entered without any public hearing and was not accompanied by any findings justifying its entry."

"There is no justification for any in this case, much less the blanket gag order imposed by the court," the media complaint said, arguing that public interest"far outweighs the remote possibility that any further public comment by the attorneys, parties or witnesses about this case could taint the jury pool or prejudicially affect the outcome of the trial in this matter. …

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