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Edwards seeks new trial based on gag order, secret jury

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         LOUISIANA         Secret Courts         Jul 7, 2000    

Edwards seeks new trial based on gag order, secret jury

  • The former governor has asked a trial court to grant him another proceeding after being convicted for conspiring to rig the state’s riverboat licensing process.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards and four other men who were convicted in May have filed a motion with Baton Rouge federal Judge Frank Polozola seeking a new trial because of alleged First Amendment violations, according to a report in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

The motion for a new trial is based in part on the gag orders that Polozola entered during the trial, Polozola’s refusal to release the names of the jurors in the case, and meetings that Polozola presided over outside of the presence of the public.

Polozola has previously placed much of the record of the case under seal, and in fact required attorneys for Edwards and the other defendants to file their motion for new trial under seal. The motion was filed on June 30 but only made available to the public on July 6.

Polozola clashed with counsel for the defendants and the media throughout the trial concerning access to the courtroom and trial participants. Following a request by federal prosecutors for an anonymous jury, Polozola held a closed hearing and then granted the motion. Jurors in the case were identified only by juror numbers.

A media coalition has previously requested that Polozola unseal all court records now that the trial has concluded. The media coalition consists of the Advocate, WGNO-TV, WVUE-TV, WWL-TV, the Times-Picayune Publishing Corp., the Gannett River States Publishing Corp., the Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association.

In a prior filing, the coalition claimed that Polozola’s orders calling for the filing of documents under seal unconstitutionally infringed on the media’s First Amendment rights. “The public deserves to be fully informed about this important public trial involving allegations of corruption against government officials and their business associates,” the motion stated. “The constitutional case for openness is nowhere greater than in a case like this one where elected officials — past and present — stand accused of abusing the public trust.”

In response to earlier motions to open up the proceedings and access to the records and participants, Polozola signed an order stating in part, “It is better to err, if err we must, on the side of generosity in the protection of a defendant’s right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.”

(United States v. Edwards; Media Counsel: Mary Ellen Roy and Cheryl Odom, Baton Rouge) GK

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© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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