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Reporter who violated gag order allowed to cover trial

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MARYLAND--In late May, Maryland's highest court stayed a lower court order barring a newspaper reporter who violated a gag order…

MARYLAND–In late May, Maryland’s highest court stayed a lower court order barring a newspaper reporter who violated a gag order from covering a criminal proceeding.

The Court of Appeals in Annapolis stayed without comment the decision of Circuit Court Judge Richard Sothoron Jr. in Upper Marlboro, who presided over the retrial of Harold Louis “Pooh” Marshall for a 1993 murder. The jury in Marshall’s second trial acquitted him on May 29.

At the outset of the trial on May 18, Sothoron forbade attorneys and the news media from referring to Marshall’s 1994 trial for the same murder, saying the gag order was necessary to protect Marshall’s fair trial rights. After Prince George’s Journal reporter Brett Coughlin wrote a story discussing Marshall’s first trial, Sothoron ordered Coughlin to appear in court to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for violating the gag order, and barred Coughlin from covering Marshall’s retrial.

Coughlin immediately appealed to the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis, which upheld the Journal’s right to report on Marshall’s first trial, but not Coughlin’s right to cover the proceedings. After the high court issued its order staying the trial judge’s injunction, Coughlin was able to cover the retrial.

The jury in Marshall’s first trial found him guilty, but the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction because Sothoron did not permit Marshall to tell the jury that a prosecution witness had received a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony against Marshall.

The Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral argument on the validity of Sothoron’s order in October. (In re Coughlin; Media Counsel: Alice Neff Lucan, Washington, D.C.)