Calif. Court Lets Gag Orders Stand

By: David Kravets, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The state Supreme Court on Wednesday let stand gag orders in two murder trials that the media argued were imposed without clear guidelines.

The Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, and Marin Independent Journal wanted the high court to hear their petitions because lower appeals courts have set differing standards.

The justices released their decision without comment.

The media noted that a Los Angeles-based appeals court has recognized that gag orders are “presumptively unconstitutional prior restraints on speech” and cannot be imposed absent a “clear and present danger or serious and imminent threat” of prejudice.

“Trial courts are imposing gag orders as a matter of routine, as if they were any other case management tool,” attorney Rachel Matteo-Boehm wrote in the media’s petition.

One trial cited in the petitions involved Patrick Goodman, convicted in May of murdering his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son. The media argued the judge sealed evidence and issued a gag order without saying how his actions protected the defendant’s right to a fair trial — a key requirement for such orders.

The second case involves the prosecution of a Marin County man and his live-in female partners, who allegedly neglected their 13 children, one of whom died of malnutrition. The judge speculated that publicity eventually could endanger the defendants’ fair-trial rights, rather than issuing a gag order based on facts, the media argued.

“The court is not saying the press can’t cover the story,” said Nanci Clarence, the attorney defending Winnfred Wright, the dead boy’s father. “It’s saying the lawyers cannot say factual information that may be heard by potential jurors.”

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