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What happened when some famous gag orders were broken

Former president Donald Trump faces two partial gag orders barring him from making certain types of public statements related to his upcoming D.C. trial on federal charges of seeking to block President Biden’s 2020 election victory, and to a New York civil fraud case about inflating property valuations.

On Friday he was ordered to pay $5,000 for violating the New York order by failing to remove a social media post about a court clerk from his website. That same day, he asked for the D.C. gag order to be put on hold while he appeals, and the judge said she would pause it temporarily.

Here are some other examples from notable cases where gag orders were violated — by defendants or others involved in the cases.

Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, was indicted in Washington, D.C., in 2019 for lying to Congress and covering up his efforts to learn about hacked Democratic emails before the 2016 election. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson barred all parties in the case from making potentially prejudicial statements in public or interfering with the administration of justice at the courthouse.

During pretrial proceedings, Stone posted on Instagram a photo of Jackson with an image that resembled rifle scope crosshairs next to her head. In response, Jackson expanded her gag order, banning Stone from speaking publicly about the investigation or case against him. When Stone continued posting vitriolic and profane messages about the case, the judge barred him from Instagram and other social media for the duration of his prosecution, citing his “middle-school” behavior.

Stone was convicted on all counts and sentenced to more than three years in prison. Trump commuted his sentence and pardoned him before leaving office.

A state judge in Maryland issued a gag order in the high-profile 2022 trial of Keith Davis Jr., a Baltimore man who had been tried four times previously in the 2015 murder of a racetrack security guard. Each trial ended in a hung jury or a guilty verdict being overturned.

Before the fifth trial, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had asked for a gag order because of intense public scrutiny of the case. Then she replied on Instagram to a woman who criticized the prosecution with the comment, “You really shouldn’t believe everything you read.”

Circuit Judge John Nugent ruled that Mosby’s post was “a willful violation of this court’s gag order” and fined her $1,500. The judge said Mosby could avoid the fine by abiding by a stricter gag order, which Mosby did.

Her successor as state’s attorney eventually dismissed the murder charge against Davis.

Watkins represented a witness in the criminal trial of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. His client was the ex-husband of the woman whom Greitens had an affair with, and then allegedly assaulted and blackmailed.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison imposed a gag order in the case, but Watkins held a news conference outside the courthouse less than two weeks later. Watkins said he didn’t know about the order.

He then apologized to the judge, who ordered Watkins to make 100 hours of presentations to outside groups on the importance of complying with court orders and how not doing so can harm the justice system. (Interesting side note: Watkins would later represent “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley, convicted of obstructing Congress during the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.)

Hill, who served as “mayor pro tem” when the mayor was unavailable, was charged with extorting bribes from potential city contractors. The judge imposed a gag order on both sides 10 days before the 2009 federal trial. Six days later, Hill gave a television interview in which he said “people … have shown that during the Bush administration that Democrats were targeted,” and other similar statements the judge thought could influence jurors.

Hill was sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt of court; his lawyer received a $5,000 fine and a 120-day suspension of his license. Hill also was convicted on the bribery and conspiracy charges. His 30-day sentence for violating the gag order was added to his 18-year prison sentence.

Macy was prosecuting Terry Nichols on state charges of conspiring with Timothy McVeigh to carry out the April, 19, 1995, truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The bombing killed 168 people — the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11, 2001.

A judge barred attorneys from publicly discussing the case ahead of Nichols’s trial in 2000. The defense moved successfully to disqualify Macy, saying he had “an emotional personal stake in the outcome of this case” and violated the order during an interview with CBS News on the fifth anniversary of the attacks in which he said, “I certainly feel that death would be the appropriate punishment for killing 19 babies.”

Macy was replaced by assistant prosecutors in his office, and Nichols was convicted.

CNN violated a judge’s gag order in the corruption trial of the deposed Panamanian leader, airing leaked Justice Department recordings of Noriega’s telephone calls from a Miami-area prison about two potential witnesses.

Convicted of contempt of court, CNN apologized four years later and paid the government $85,000 to cover the cost of the contempt prosecution in lieu of being hit with a larger fine.

A judge can punish people for violating court rules by attacking witnesses or prejudicing potential jurors even without a gag order, as seen in the case of former billionaire crypto trader and FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.

Weeks before his trial this month for allegedly stealing billions of dollars from investors, Bankman-Fried was sent to jail in August after giving the New York Times the private writings of a key government witness: Caroline Ellison, his former employee and girlfriend.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that the disclosures were tantamount to witness tampering and ordered Bankman-Fried jailed pending trial, finding that he violated his release conditions and revoking his $250 million bail. The judge then entered a gag order in the case, which is currently on trial.

Kaplan is also overseeing the civil defamation lawsuit against Trump brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, which is scheduled for trial in January.


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