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Media challenges secrecy orders in Edwards trial

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    NMU         LOUISIANA         Secret Courts         Sep 28, 2000    

Media challenges secrecy orders in Edwards trial

  • The trial of former governor Edwin Edwards has resulted in gag orders, sanctions, and an anonymous jury, which is being challenged by a number of media organizations.

Former governor Edwin Edwards was fined $1,700 last week for violating a federal judge’s gag order.

The second trial involving Edwards has been a case-study in court limitations on the press. First, the judge imposed a gag order on all participants. Then, the judge emptied all media and spectators from the courtroom during jury questioning. Most recently, the judge fined Edwards $1,700 for statements she thought violated the gag order. The fine, meted out last week, amounted to $100 per word and the judge threatened the next fine would be $1,000 per word. According to the Associated Press, reporters asked Edwards “if collecting money could prompt a statement from him.”

The media in Louisiana have vocally opposed the court secrecy surrounding the trial. Media organizations have appealed the closure of voir dire and asked for the transcript. James Brown, the insurance commissioner who is also on trial has appealed the gag order. His petition for certiorari is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Edwards was tried previously for corruption involving riverboat gambling, and court secrecy was an issue in that case, as well. The judge had impaneled an anonymous jury and then sealed the order explaining why he thought the jury should be anonymous. Many of the documents filed in the first Edwards trial were filed under seal. Media organizations have appealed those sealing orders. Some documents have since been released, but other documents remain secret.

(U.S. v. Brown; Media Counsel: James Swanson, New Orleans; Mary Ellen Roy, New Orleans; Michael Hunt, Baton Rouge; Lloyd Lunceford, Baton Rouge; David Woolridge, Jr., Baton Rouge) AG

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