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Ramsey housekeeper cannot discuss grand jury testimony in book

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Ramsey housekeeper cannot discuss grand jury testimony in book

  • A federal appeals court held that a state grand jury secrecy law that interferes with publication of a book does not violate the First Amendment.

Aug. 8, 2003 — A Colorado law making it illegal for a witness to publicly discuss her own testimony before a grand jury “until and unless an indictment or report is issued,” does not violate the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver (10th Cir.) ruled on Aug. 6.

The decision means that Linda Hoffman-Pugh, a former housekeeper for murdered child JonBenet Ramsey’s family, cannot discuss her testimony in a book she is writing about her experiences with the family before and after the 1996 murder. The decision overturns a federal district judge’s decision that the law was unconstitutional. The long-running investigation into the murder has produced no indictments yet.

The appellate court distinguished this case from a previous U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down Florida’s grand jury secrecy law. The court noted that the Colorado law did not interfere with Hoffman-Pugh’s right to discuss any facts or information she knew before she testified, but barred her only from revealing what actually transpired during the grand jury hearing or other information she learned during the grand jury process.

In Butterworth v. Smith, “the Florida statute specifically precluded disclosing the ‘gist or import’ of the testimony, which clearly emcompassed the substance of the knowledge the grand jury witness had before entering the grand jury process,” the appellate court ruled.

The court added that any harm to Hoffman-Pugh was lessened because she would be able to discuss her testimony once the criminal investigation was complete, and because she could petition a state court for a determination that secrecy is no longer required.

The day after the decision, a lawyer for the housekeeper told The Associated Press that she would publish the book with 32 blank pages where her discussion of her testimony would have been. The lawyer would not disclose who the publisher of the book is, but said it was scheduled for publication next spring.

Hoffman-Pugh previously had sued JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, over a statement about her in their own book — that Patsy Ramsey had told police the housekeeper had been acting strangely at the time of the child’s disappearance. That case was dismissed last year.

(Hoffman-Pugh v. Keenan; Author’s counsel: Darnay Hoffman, New York) GL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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