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Quote of the Day - Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it takes the edge off admiration. - William Hazlitt
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Judge Throws Lightning Bolt At Reporter For Violating Trial Orders Issued To The Media

Lawyers and criminals (by the juxtaposition I don't mean to point out any possible similarities) are used to it - when you violate a court order, you will likely pay the price.  Sometimes you're in contempt, other times you might just get sanctioned.

I've seen one judge order an attorney to get out her checkbook and write a $500 check to her favorite charity.  Another judge hooked up a hot-headed attorney and sent him off to the tank to cool down.  (That's lawyerese for handcuffing the attorney in a court holding cell.)

Judges don't take kindly to disrespect, and it's their power to order just about everything that keeps courtroom participants in line.  Judges are usually loathe, however, to impose contempt charges against someone.  Typically you'll see the judge issue one or two warnings and if ignored, then wham - the lightning bolts start to fly from the bench.

So when Salt Lake City KUTV reporter Katie Baker interviewed a potential juror prior to the trial of polygamous sect leader William Jeffs, Fifth District Judge James Shumate lowered the boom on Ms. Baker.  She violated a court order issued to the media to stay away from the potential jurors, among other things.  The Judge then ordered her as punishment for her violation to produce a pubic interest story or go to jail.

Now some blogs and newspapers have expressed shock at the judge's punishment for her violation of his initial stay-away order, but this humble attorney has regularly seen judges issue those type of media restrictions in high-profile media cases, so the order is not surprising at all.  Frankly, any journalist worth her salt shouldn't be surprised either, and the really good ones would have first asked the court clerk for the judge's media orders and checked them before interviewing a potential juror.

You know, not tainting the jury pool, the independence of the judicial system, sequestered juries and all that.  Reporters regularly write stories about these social policies and related means of protecting them, so lack of knowledge is highly skeptical.

Nonetheless, that excuse got Katie the option of writing and broadcasting a pubic interest story instead of not passing Go and heading directly to jail.  Lucky stars, I guess.  Moreover, the order doesn't violate her First Amendment rights because she's not being restricted on what she can write.  The punishment isn't ex post facto, either, because the Stay-away was issued before the reporter violated it.

There is another maxim that applies here, however:  ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Even so, the TV station's attorney said he was troubled by the Court's order and is evaluating Katie's next steps.  While I'm not admitted in Utah, perhaps her best option would be to do the story.  It's what she does for a living, and it's a lot less expensive than challenging her contempt order in court, which challenge she'd likely lose anyway.

Plus, it's a reasonable punishment, especially given the damage she could have done by causing a mistrial.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, October 19, 2007 at 10:14 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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