Stewart letter draws gag order

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 01:19 PM

Judge Erwin Spainhour sent the potential jurors and pool out of the courtoom Wednesday morning following a recess. 

Spainhour read a letter to the editor from School Board Member Kevin Stewart that was printed in Wednesday's Enquirer-Journal. 

Spainhour told both attorneys to confer with their boards and gave a direct order that there will be "no further public comment." 

"(I am) very concerned about this," Spainhour said. He added that he was not going to put up with it. 

Violators of his direct order could be held in contempt of court, facing 30 days in jail or a $500 fine, he said. 

In his order, Spainhour said that such public comments tend to undermine the judicial process. He said that any communication with news media in any fashion is "unfair and improper and interferes with (the) trial." 

In addition to traditional media, Spainhour extended it to Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

He further ordered that the attorneys will get a copy of the order and give it to their respective boards. 

The letter had also been posted on Stewart's Facebook page. As of Wednesday evening, the page seems to have been disabled.

Union County Board of Education Attorney Richard Schwartz said he was unaware of the letter and the Facebook post. 

When the jury pool returned, Spainhour informed them of the letter, saying that it was "improper" and "a problem." Only a few members of the pool said they had read the letter and no selected jury members had. 

Spainhour told the jurors they cannot read newspaper articles, watch TV news, listen to the radio, read about it on Facebook or listen to anything outside of the courtroom evidence while they are trying the case.

He told jurors and potential jurors that if they wanted to read articles to see if they differed from their first-hand experience, they could save them until after the trial. 

"You're to base your verdict only on" courtroom evidence and sworn testimony, he said.