Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Coalition fights gag order in BART case

The California First Amendment Coalition is asking a judge to lift his gag order in the case against former BART officer Johannes Mehserle who is charged in the New Year's Day shooting of passenger Oscar Grant. CFAC says Judge Morris Jacobson's gag order "denies the press a key source of information on a matter of extreme and legitimate public concern."

"Not only does this case center on alleged abuse of power by a government official of the gravest sort -- one that resulted in the taking of a human life -- but it will also shine a spotlight on the way in which BART police execute their duties and handle their responsibilities more generally," CFAC attorneys Paven Malhotra and Cody Harris said in their brief, according to Bay City News.

"Free speech and free press interests are at their peak where, as here the public seeks -- and the press strives to provide -- information relating to allegations of police misconduct, ineffective or even dangerous police policies, inadequate training procedures and the relationship between police officers and the community they serve."

Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, said in a brief that he also wants Jacobson to lift the gag order.

Rains said the gag order "has hamstrung Mehserle by preventing any attempt he might otherwise make to address the barrage of negative publicity in the case which has presumed his guilt as murderer."

In his brief, Rains said, "The BART shooting case has received an avalanche of media coverage, nearly all of it vilifying Mehserle."

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