News Column

George Zimmerman Judge Holds Gag Order Hearing Today

Oct. 26, 2012

Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

Prosecutors want a gag order to silence defense attorney Mark O'Mara in Florida v. George Zimmerman. This afternoon, both sides return to the courtroom of Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to argue about it.

Zimmerman, the 29-year-old former Neighborhood Watch volunteer, is expected to be there.

So are attorneys for the Orlando Sentinel and nearly a dozen other news organizations, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN. They oppose the gag order.

A previous judge, Kenneth Lester Jr., said no when Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda first asked for one in April.

Last week he asked again.

"Unless defense counsel stops talking to the media as described, in person or by use of the Internet and social media websites, it will be impossible to select an impartial jury, ..." he argued in a legal memo to the judge late yesterday.

Nelson has set aside 2 { hours to hear argument.

O'Mara has set up a website and often blogs about the case. He's made network television appearances and posted information on Facebook and Twitter.

Those things, he argues, are not unethical. The case has generated an enormous amount of news coverage plus commentary on social media sites, and to ignore that would be unwise.

He also contends that he has abided by Florida Bar regulations that restrict what a lawyer can and cannot say about a pending case.

Rachel Fugate, a lawyer for the Orlando Sentinel, pointed out in court paperwork that De la Rionda and his boss, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, have held news conferences and done interviews with reporters about the case and released, as is required by law, almost all of its evidence against Zimmerman.

"In other words, having disclosed its side of the case, the state now wishes to halt any further discussion," Fugate wrote.

The hearing is to start at 1:30 p.m.

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