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Gag order survives in trial of former governor

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    NMU         FIFTH CIRCUIT         Secret Courts         Mar 9, 2000    

Gag order survives in trial of former governor

  • Participants in the criminal trial of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards remain bound by a gag order issued by the judge presiding over the trial.

A federal appellate panel in New Orleans refused on March 8 to review a trial judge’s decision to keep in place a gag order in the criminal trial of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and six other defendants for allegedly rigging the licensing process for gambling on riverboats.

A gag order has also been the subject of controversy in another criminal trial involving Edwards. In that case, Edwards is also one of the defendants who was indicted in September 1999 on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, insurance fraud and witness tampering in connection with a 1996 insurance liquidation settlement. A Fifth Circuit ruling on the propriety of the continued existence of the gag order in that case is expected in April.

In the decision involving the racketeering case, the three-judge appellate panel unanimously ruled that it could not review the refusal of New Orleans trial judge Frank Polozola to lift his Nov. 9, 1998 gag order. The court held that it could review only “final orders” — orders that end the litigation — and orders that fall under the “collateral order doctrine,” which are orders that “are conclusive, resolve important questions separate from the merits, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment in the underlying action.” It noted that the gag order in question was not a final order and that the court declined to “extend the collateral order doctrine to orders that restrain speech in connection with pending cases.”

The unsigned opinion was joined by Judges John Duhe Jr., Edith Jones and Jacques Wiener Jr. The defendants can appeal the panel’s decision to the entire Fifth Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The gag order restricts the parties, attorneys and witnesses from making certain out-of-court statements. The defendants first filed their motion complaining about the gag order on Sept. 16, 1999. After Polozola denied the motion, the defendants appealed, arguing that the gag order imposes “a continuous prior restraint on speech which is damaging the defendants’ ability to obtain a fair trial.”

(United States v. Edwards)

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