Media, families challenge broad gag order in Simpson civil trial
CALIFORNIA–In mid-August, a group of media organizations challenged a blanket gag order and the sealing of transcripts in the civil suit filed by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman against O.J. Simpson.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki barred all parties, jurors, counsel and witnesses from expressing any opinions to the media or in public places within hearing of the general public concerning the evidence or “whether the defendant did or did not commit the homicides.”
On August 13, prior to imposing the gag order, Fujisaki conducted a status conference in chambers, outside the presence of the media and the public, and ordered the transcripts sealed. The judge stated that he will seal transcripts of future bench conferences and other hearings that are conducted outside of the jury’s presence until the conclusion of trial.
The media argued to the state Court of Appeal in Santa Monica that there was no justification for such a sweeping imposition on important free speech rights, and that the lower court had failed to balance the interests of the public and the parties or to consider less restrictive measures. The group also argued that the sealing order violates the First Amendment presumption in favor of open judicial proceedings in the absence of a clear showing that public access will infringe on the parties’ right to a fair trial.
The media organizations appealed the gag order after Fujisaki denied their motion for reconsideration, based upon his finding that the anticipated media coverage would cause undue prejudice and that no “reasonable or workable alternatives” existed. Fujisaki also rejected a request by Frederic Goldman, Ronald Goldman’s father, to modify the order to permit him to speak out about victim’s rights and criminal justice reform.
Fujisaki also barred all television cameras, still photographers and sketch artists from the courtroom during the civil action, saying electronic coverage of Simpson’s criminal trial created a “circus atmosphere.” That ruling is not being challenged in the appeal, which was filed on behalf of numerous media parties, including The Associated Press, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, and the Los Angeles Times. The civil trial is scheduled to begin September 17. (Cable News Network, Inc., et al. v. Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles; Media Counsel: Kelli Sager, Los Angeles)