As a writer and journalist, I don't particularly believe in gag orders, so when the second gag order motion was filed by the State on October 18, I had a feeling it, too, would be turned down, just like the first one on April 30. Sure, the first one was denied by a different judge, but the law is pretty clear about what a gag order is, and George Zimmerman's defense team has not reached the brink of breaching the legal levee to a point of overflowing; when the public is flooded with pre-trial information that may possibly prejudice a jury down the road. Of course, this is assuming that the State passes its first hurdle -- the 'not yet filed' defense motion for immunity. We won't go there. Not now, anyway.
The definition of a gag order is quite simple. Law.com describes it as "a judge's order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case." The description further states that a gag order "has the secondary purpose of preventing the lawyers from trying the case in the press and on television, and thus creating a public mood (which could get ugly) in favor of one party or the other." A gag order would apply toward law enforcement officials and include all witnesses.
The second part of the description is intriguing because attorneys have been trying cases in the media since the first stone tablet announced something of legal merit thousands of years ago. Before then, it was grunt of mouth that spread the news, and I'm sure that, back then, there were lawyers that hung their slate shingles over cave entrances advertising their services. In those days, they probably wore custom-tailored saber-toothed fur ensembles to court instead of more mundane beaver skins.
Back to the present. The only thing that's new about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case is that the Internet has evolved over the years. We didn't see it during the O.J. Simpson era of the mid-90s because, unlike today, there wasn't really a huge need for it. Cell phones were the size of bricks, they were very expensive, and most people were still content with their beepers, fax machines and copiers. I went online sometime in the mid-to-late-90s, but I was in information superhighway diapers until the early 2000s. That's the way it is in the courtroom now because most laws regarding trial publicity were written prior to the massive explosion of the digital age. If we only go back four years, we witnessed it with the bombastic blast of information regarding the Casey Anthony case, the likes of which we've never seen. Thousands of documents were released to the public due to Florida's liberal Sunshine Law. It wasn't without problems, though. Case in point: If two different sized tires were found in the woods where Caylee was found, you'd better bet the public retreaded them and overinflated their minds to believe that Casey threw those tires there for a reason. They dissected everything. Why were those tires there? What was Casey hiding? Who helped her? Roy Kronk? God forbid that they might have been there since 2003. Yes, they became Casey's tires, yet they never swayed the jury one way or the other. There's a reason for that. They weren't hers and they were never introduced as evidence at trial. Those woods had been used as a dumping ground for years. That's the problem with evidence. It's not always evidence.
Granted, the Zimmerman defense had been publishing all sorts of information on its site, the gzlegalcase, about their client and some of the evidence that's been released to date, but it was nothing more than what's been released to the public, anyway. The defense has merely been offering their own interpretations, and some conflicts with the way the State thinks. While the State has been very tight-lipped, that doesn't mean the defense must play the same game. Most certainly, it doesn't mean that we have to believe what anyone says, either.
During the gag order aspect of the hearing on October 26, Bernie de la Rionda rambled on. At times, I found him to be inconsistent and somewhat disheveled, wordwise. He asserted that the defense Website had been somewhat unethical. Zimmerman & Company called witnesses liars and tried to bypass the media by offering their own version of the case instead of how the media might interpret it. I disagree. We are given the same information in discovery. We can write our own commentary. For instance, Zimmerman's medical records indicate he may have sustained a broken nose during the fight with Trayvon the night of February 26. O'Mara clearly said it's a fact and undisputed that his client's nose was broken. I don't have to believe O'Mara and neither do you, and that's the whole point.
Discovery impacts potential jurors a heck of a lot more than anything the defense throws out, in my opinion, and no proof exists either way. His nose was broken, his nose wasn't broken. You decide. Ostensibly, both sides will offer tons of rhetoric at trial. It's the name of the game. There is one point where I may agree with de la Rionda. It's when he commented about the defense site's quote asking for donations from those who would do the same thing if they were in Zimmerman's shoes. That's pretty tasteless and crass, not to mention cold-hearted and grossly opinionated. SEND MONEY IF YOU THINK TRAYVON DESERVED TO DIE. Never mind that O'Mara's job is to defend his client, not bark for money. If O'Mara has a fault, it's that he can be overtly insensitive at times.
When O'Mara got up to explain why he had done nothing wrong to warrant the gag, I agreed with him until he asserted that the attorneys for Trayvon's parents were using the race card. Yes, early on, it turned ugly in a racial kind of way, but O'Mara practically accused Benjamin Crump of inciting a race war. That's just not true. I attended the National Rally for Justice on Behalf of Trayvon Martin in Sanford on March 22, and all I heard from the speakers, including Rev. Al Sharpton, was nothing but justice, justice, justice. Take it through the court system! That's all they have been seeking. Not retribution. O'Mara claimed that Crump called Zimmerman a racist murderer and, I'm sorry, but I never heard that. If you can show me where Crump did, in fact, say it, I'll eat my hat.
He also accused Crump and Natalie Jackson of being surrogates for the State. That's not true, either, any more than saying that Robert Zimmerman is working for the defense. O'Mara claims that, as a surrogate for the State, Crump must be as bound to Florida Rule 4-3.6 as the immediate attorneys involved in the case. I disagree. Crump does not represent the State. His represents Trayvon's family. Period. Even if a gag order were in place, it would have no bearing on him. I feel that the intent of this sort of strategy in the courtroom was to throw the judge off course. "They went thataway!" It didn't work because Judge Nelson didn't blink. She would not budge, and she often had to remind the defense and prosecution to stay on the road.
I was fairly certain before the hearing began that Judge Nelson was going to rule against the gag order motion. While I had some problems with the defense, did anything ever rise to the level that I would consider iffy? No, but I can understand some of the issues at hand. For instance, what separates bloggers from mainstream media? The Huffington Post is a blog, but it's the media. Daily Kos is as much a part of the media as the New York Times Website. So is NewsBusters. Then there's Marinade Dave. We won't go there, but my point is clear. There's no single distinguishing line that separates media outlets, so why can't the defense have a blog?
When O'Mara slightly belittled de la Rionda by reminding him this is 2012 and that law books are no longer on shelves, it reminded me of the final presidential debate on foreign policy, when Obama ridiculed Romney about the armed forces no longer fighting with bayonets. While I understood the president's point, I knew he was wrong. Marines still carry bayonets. In that vein, not all attorneys are Internet savvy. The last time I checked, Office Depot and Staples still sell legal pads and writing instruments with ink, not just digital tablets and capacitative touch screen pens.
But now that we are in the midst of a technology frenzy that continues to skyrocket into the future, at a time when my six month old 3rd generation iPad is already obsolete, I question what good a gag order would do in today's world. Just how would it impact a jury seven months into the future when we live in an age of lightning LTE speed? The old saying, today's news is at the bottom of tomorrow's birdcage, no longer applies because you can't clean up birdpoop with the Orlando Sentinel dot com. This morning's news is already old and who can remember what happened yesterday? Other than something that impacts us tremendously, like Superstorm Sandy, who cares? By the time George Zimmerman goes to trial, no one will remember O'Mara's ramblings from last month, let alone care. Trust me on that one (but I do find it peculiar that nothing new has been posted on the gzlegalcase site [as of this writing] since October 23.)
Ultimately, Judge Nelson denied the motion because alternatives are available to the court to "ensure that an impartial jury can be selected. Those tools include a change of venue, a larger than normal jury venire, individualized voir dire, and stern instructions to the jurors as to their sworn duty to decide the issues based only upon the evidence." I fully concur, but I think the best news to come out of her order was one simple, yet important, thing. Had a gag order been placed, other than Benjamin Crump, the media would have had no one else to talk to but Robert Zimmerman, Jr, and no one but the media and his own family care about him. And he only matters when there's nothing better to report. Count your blessings. It's good to be a gagnostic.