Appeals court rejects newspaper’s request to drop gag order
- The order forbids attorneys and others involved from making pretrial comments in the case of an 18-year-old charged in connection with the death of his father.
July 30, 2003 — A Minnesota court of appeals in St. Paul upheld a county court’s order preventing pretrial comment in the case of a teenager accused of murdering his father.
The order, issued by Judge Paul Widick in St. Cloud, applies to attorneys, parties in the lawsuit, and others involved in the trial of 18-year-old Jason MacLennan. It states that parties are prohibited from making “extra-judicial statements relating to this case or the issues in this case” until a jury has been selected and sworn in.
In its July 22 ruling, the appeals court found no reason to overturn the order. The St. Cloud Times, which had contested the order, did not cite any Minnesota law saying that restricting comments prior to a trial is improper, wrote Chief Judge Edward Toussaint on behalf of the three-judge panel. Additionally, the newspaper failed to show that it had authority to challenge the order.
“Our supreme court has not yet determined whether a media representative has standing to challenge an order that restricts comments that may be made by others,” Toussaint wrote.
“The gag order was apparently imposed long before it was placed in writing,” said Mark Anfinson, the attorney representing the Times.
Reporters became curious in May when attorneys and other court staff would comment that they shouldn’t be talking about the case, he added.
Anfinson wrote two letters asking Widick if an order had been imposed and opposing such an order. The judge did not respond to those letters.
The existence of the order was formally acknowledged when Widick held a June 11 hearing to address the newspaper’s objections, Anfinson said. The order was released July 8.
The Times, a Gannett newspaper, will decide soon whether to appeal the ruling to the state supreme court, Anfinson said.
MacLennan’s trial is scheduled to begin August 13.
(Minnesota v. MacLennan; Media counsel: Mark Anfinson, Minneapolis) — EH
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press