NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · OHIO · Secret Courts · April 24, 2007
Judge orders partial gag order on child custody case
April 24, 2007 · A Ohio juvenile court judge has prohibited a mother who also served as a key witness in a high-profile murder trial from discussing the physical and mental condition of her three children while they are in foster care.
The partial gag order, issued April 12 over the objections of several Cincinnati-area media organizations, also banned Amy Baker, her estranged husband and their attorneys from disclosing the names, current residences, and current schools of her children and any information regarding their daily activities, including the details of any contact between the children and any of the parties involved in a custody case.
The children were taken from their mother, Amy Baker, after Liz and David Carroll Jr. were arrested in the death of their three-year-old foster son, Marcus Fiesel, on Aug. 29. Since Baker, 25, served as the Carroll’s live-in girlfriend, she and her three children were left homeless and jobless after the couple’s arrest on murder charges.
Marcus died after being bound in a blanket with tape and then left in a closet while Baker and the Carrolls went to a family reunion in Kentucky the weekend of Aug. 4, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Liz Carroll has been convicted of murder in February and David Carroll pleaded guilty soon after.
Both Baker and her estranged husband, Brian, are separately seeking custody of their children, and the children’s maternal grandparents want custody if the court will not return them to their mother.
The court-appointed guardian for the Baker children, Anita Bechmann, orally asked for a gag order in court “to protect the best interests of the children” after the grandparents, Robert and Tracy Ramsey, gave an interview to the Enquirer making critical comments about the state-managed foster care system now responsible for the three children.
Attorneys for area media parties protested, insisting the proposed gag order was “an unconstitutional prior restraint on the media that infringes upon their First Amendment rights to gather and report the news and impedes their role as a watchdog on government actions.”
The media organizations, a group comprised of four local newspapers and three television stations, also said that Bechmann “has failed to show that a gag order is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
The media also wrote that “the intense public interest in this case” — specifically the need for public scrutiny of the state foster care system — “outweighs any other interests that might be argued.”
Bechmann responded by saying that she was not asking the judge to tell the media “what to print or what not to print” but was just asking for the parties, witnesses, and counsel in the custody to be prevented from speaking to the press.
This, she insisted, “is not a matter of prior restraint.”
Judge Stephanie Wyler of Clermont County Juvenile Court issued the partial gag order to account for both parties’ arguments. Instead of the broad gag order Bechmann was seeking, the judge barred only the Bakers from speaking on specific issues.
(In the Matter of: Baker Children, Media Counsel: Jill P. Meyer and Monica L. Dias, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Cincinnati) — MA