BART shooting gag order stays

February 13, 2009 6:52:38 PM PST
An Alameda County judge issued a new gag order on Friday. It has strict, specific guidelines to stop lawyers from talking in the case of a former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, accused in a shooting death of Oscar Grant. The incident happened at the Fruitvale BART station, early January 1, 2009.

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When attorneys for the California First Amendment Coalition entered Alameda County Superior Court on Friday, they had high hopes for comment and clarity.

"This is a case that everybody in the community wants to know about, and everybody in the community deserves to know about," said Paven Malhotro, from the First Amendment Coalition.

Instead, there is an even stronger gag order for attorneys in the case against former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who is accused of murdering Oscar Grant while in custody on January 1, 2009.

Judge Morris Jacobsen limited attorneys in 10 different categories from evidence, to testimony, to commentary. In his decision, he chastised defense attorney Michael Rains, for having already released the names of 17 potential witnesses.

"And because those witnesses may testify at trial, the court is obviously concerned there might not be a fair trial because these witnesses might be under pressure now that their identities have been revealed," said Malhotro.

In his decision, the judged cited intense media coverage of the shooting and its aftermath. Defense attorney Tains argued that because of the standing gag order, he has not been able to properly defend Mehserle's reputation.

"The defense council has a point. The code of professional responsibility allows a lawyer to respond when his client has been damaged by adverse publicity. I don't think that there is any question that Officer Mehserle has been damaged by adverse publicity in this case," said ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson.

In its decision today, the court acknowledged the possibility for a change of venue. Ultimately, he said he wants an untainted jury, uninfluenced by the court of public opinion.

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