Grand jury witnesses can be ordered to stay silent
- California judge denies newspaper’s request for an order allowing witnesses to talk publicly about their testimony.
Oct. 2, 2003 — A judge Monday denied the San Jose Mercury News‘ bid for an order allowing grand jury witnesses to talk about their testimony in the criminal investigation of a local judge.
Judge William Kelsay, of Santa Clara County, refused to issue an order barring the district attorney and grand jury foreman from instructing witnesses to stay silent. The newspaper argued that the First Amendment requires letting grand jury witnesses talk to the press, absent a specific justification for each statement in question.
In response, attorneys for the county contended that the gag order was a reasonable precaution to ensure the traditional secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
“[The judge] basically bought the county’s argument all the way down the line,” said attorney Ed Davis, in a Mercury News story Tuesday. Davis represented the paper in the lawsuit.
The Mercury News complained that several witnesses who initially agreed to do interviews abruptly changed their minds after being threatened with criminal charges by the grand jury foreman. Another witness declined to talk after a prosecutor told a Mercury News reporter, within earshot of the witness, that anyone who spoke publicly about his testimony would be “thrown in jail.”
It is unclear if the judge overseeing the grand jury investigation issued the gag order, or if state statute allows the prosecutor to impose such measures.
The grand jury was investigating Judge William Danser and a police officer, Randy Bishop, who allegedly doled out favors from the bench, such as fixing traffic tickets for members of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. Danser and Bishop were indicted last week on conspiracy charges.
The Mercury News said it will appeal the decision.
(San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. Kennedy; Media Counsel: Edward P. Davis, Gray Carey Ware & Friedenrich, Palo Alto) — JM
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press