Judge's Order Banning Media Coverage & Gag Order


Date: August 23, 1996

V. MCKOWN Deputy Sheriff
E. KENNEY Deputy Clerk
P. Dickson Reporter

SHARON RUFO, et al. n/a


Matter is called for hearing on non-parties' (Agence France Presse, Franklin Communications dba KPSL 1010 Talk Radio, Radio & T.V. News Association, Courtroom Television Network, H.G. Star-1 News Photos, Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Daily News, Cable News Network, Inc., CBS, Inc., ABC News, National Broadcasting Company, Inc., KCAL-TV, the Santa Monica Outlook, joined by plaintiff Goldman on a limited basis) requests for media coverage. Court indicates it has read and considered all papers filed on the issue and hears argument.

Plaintiffs (Goldman, joined by the Estate of Nicole Brown Simpson, joined by non-parties Fox-TV, the American Civil Liberties Union, Cable News Network, Inc., CBS, Inc., ABC News, National Broadcasting Company, Inc., KCAL-TV, the Santa Monica Outlook) motion to modify the Court's gag order of 8/13/96 is called for hearing. Counsel argue and matter is submitted.

Non-parties (Cable News Network, Inc. CBS, Inc. ABC News, National Broadcasting Company, Inc., KCAL-TV, the Santa Monica Outlook) oral motion to allow the court reporter to transcribe informal chambers conference held 8/13/96 is denied.

Court takes the matters under submission.

Later the Court issues the following rules: The Court having read and considered the briefs, memoranda and supporting papers of the non-party movants, and of the parties, and having conducted a hearing upon request of the electronic (television and radio), photographic, reporter live-feed to Internet, and courtroom artist coverage under California Rules of Court Rule 980, now renders the following ruling:

The Court has concluded from the experience of the criminal trial of this defendant concerning the same essential factual circumstances, that electronic coverage of the trial significantly diverted and distracted the participants therein, it appearing that the conduct of witnesses and counsel were unduly influenced by the presence of the electronic media. This conduct was manifested in various ways such as playing to the camera, gestures, outbursts by counsel and witnesses, in the courtroom and thereafter outside of the courthouse, presenting a circus atmosphere to the trial. This detracted from the integrity of the trial process and the dignity of the courtroom. The trial process requires that the evidence be presented to the jury undistorted by these extraneous influences. The intensity of media activity in this civil trial thus far strongly supports this Court's belief that history will repeat itself unless the Court acts to prevent it. It has been the experience of this Court that presence of a photographer pointing a camera and taking photographs was very distracting and an intrusion to the trial process, affecting witnesses, jurors, and everyone else in the courtroom. The intrusiveness and distraction likewise will occur when a courtroom artist, with drawing pad and other instruments, draws witnesses and others in the courtroom, evoking a consciousness and concern of how one is being characterized by the artist, instead of focusing on the function of being a witness or juror in the trial. The Court concludes that the presence of electronic media, as well as photographic cameras and courtroom artist will significantly divert and distract the participants in the trial, as well as detract from the dignity and decorum of the trial and Court.

The experience of the criminal trial demonstrated the overwhelming pervasiveness of the electronic coverage's dissemination of selected portions out of context of the trial and commentary thereon in every format imaginable, particularly newscasts at all hours. The probability, therefore, is extremely high that the jury will be exposed to information out of context and outside of the trial process. The Court is required by law to ensure that the jury decide this case only upon its consideration of evidence received in the trial and in the context of the trial process. It is unreasonable to sequester the jury in a prolonged civil trial.

Based upon the foregoing considerations, in order to protect the rights of the parties, the dignity and decorum of the courtroom, the integrity of the evidentiary process, and the orderly conduct of the proceedings, the Court denies the requests for electronic, photographic and courtroom artists coverage of this trial.

With respect to the request for live-feed of court reporter notes to Internet, this motion is denied on the ground that live-feed of court reporter notes pertain to rough, unedited or uncorrected notes of the reporter, which may be incomprehensible and misleading, or otherwise incomplete. To the extent the reporter has transcribed the testimony in certified form, the court has no objection to any arrangement that the court reporter makes with respect to the dissemination of the transcribed trial proceedings, with the exception of any portions ordered temporarily sealed.

It is the intention of the Court to enter an order at the time of trial that bench conferences out of the hearing on the jury and other proceedings out of the presence or hearing of the jury be temporarily sealed until the conclusion of the trial. Because the jury is not sequestered, there is a high risk of exposing the jury to inadmissible evidence or information discussed at such proceedings out of the presence of the jury if such information is disseminated publicly by the media, subjecting the trial to the possibility of mistrial.

On August 13, 1996, this court issued an order precluding attorneys, parties, and witnesses under control of counsel from discussing extra-judicially any matter connected with this trial.

At the request of non-party media organizations and Plaintiff Frederic Goldman, this Court considered their motion for an order vacating this order. The Court read and considered the moving papers and heard argument from counsel.

The Court has considered the rights of freedom of speech of the persons encompassed by this order and the rights of the public and the press, and weighed these considerations against the duty of this Court to conduct the trial in a neutral and detached environment necessary to insulate rational argument and dispassionate decision-making from the passions that will inevitably arise from extra-judicial commentary on the part of those who are hereby constrained. The Court has a further duty to ensure that the jury receive and consider admissible evidence in rendering its verdict, which can only be accomplished through the trial process. It is anticipated that the jury will not be sequestered. The experience in the criminal trial clearly demonstrated pervasive dissemination by all of the media of the comments and opinions of counsel therein regarding the trial proceedings, evidence received as well as not received or nonexistent, the merits of the case, the jury and the judge. This experience compels the conclusion that the probability is extremely high that the jury will be exposed to such extra-judicial commentary regarding this trial, inadmissible evidence, misinformation and opinions, outside of the trial process, despite judicial admonitions and the best efforts of the jurors to avoid such exposure.

There are no reasonable or workable alternatives to an order restraining comments by persons to be covered by the Court's order. Sequestration of the jury in a prolonged civil trial is not a reasonable alternative to restriction of comment by counsel, parties and witnesses under their control, until the trial is completed. The criminal trial was so widely and extensively covered by the media that relocation of the trial is not a reasonable alternative. Admonitions to the jury to disregard media dissemination of extra-judicial comments concerned in the order is inadequate in face of the massive media coverage anticipated, and from the experience in the criminal trial.

Plaintiff Frederic Goldman seeks a modification of this order to permit him to speak of victim's rights and reform of the criminal justice system. The risk of Plaintiff Goldman's extra-judicial statements in these areas that pertain to the very subject matter of the civil trial, to wit his opinions and views of the criminal case, the underlying factual circumstances of the homicides, evidence, witnesses, or parties in this case, reaching the jurors outside of the courtroom is extremely high, and it would be unduly prejudicial to allow these views and opinions to get before the jury outside of the trial. Mr. Goldman has elected to seek redress against the Defendant in this civil trial where in he may personally present his opinions and views to the jury within the parameters of the rules of evidence. Having thus submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court he must abide by the law and rules governing this trial.

Based upon these considerations, the Court, has determined the interests of justice will be served by the issuance of the above order, as modified:

No counsel, party or witnesses under the control of counsel may discuss or state any opinions concerning evaluation of evidence, including any witness whether called to testify or not, whether offered, received,, excluded, purported to exist but not tendered or not available, the jury or any juror, the Court, including the trial proceedings, or whether the defendant did or did not commit the homicides, outside of the trial proceedings with the media or in public places within hearing of the general public. This order extends to employees and agents or representatives, whether paid or unpaid, of the attorneys. This order does not apply to private discussions by and among the attorneys in preparation of their cases, with their clients, ,staff, investigators and witnesses. This order will remain in effect until the trial of this case is concluded.

Notice by Mr. Petrocelli.