By Tony Romeo
BELLEFONTE, Pa. (CBS) — With the trial due to start in less than two months, the judge presiding over the Jerry Sandusky case has now issued a gag order to those involved.
After a hearing in Centre County Court last Thursday, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan openly suggested the defense strategy was designed to try the case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in the court of public opinion.
“I would submit that the Commonwealth’s effort has been to litigate this case in court,” McGettigan said last week, “whereas, to the contrary, what we have had is countless trees dying for motions to be filed and microphone batteries dying as it’s litigated out here.”
Sandusky’s attorney responded by saying he has had no choice but to speak out in the media.
Coincidence or not, the judge in the case, four days later, has issued an order significantly limiting public comments that can be made by those involved in the case, including any opinion regarding Sandusky’s guilt or innocence, regarding evidence, regarding the reputation or credibility of the defendant or any witness, and any opinion regarding the merits of positions advanced by the prosecution or defense.
Judge John Cleland’s order also applies to any law enforcement investigator who has ever worked on the case and anyone acting on behalf of the lawyers.
Cleland said he was acting to help ensure a “fair, impartial and orderly trial” for Sandusky, a proceeding scheduled to begin June 5th in Bellefonte.
Sandusky, 68, is charged with sexually abusing ten boys over 15 years, and authorities say some of the abuse happened on Penn State’s campus. Sandusky has maintained his innocence on the 52 counts against him.
The ensuing scandal led to the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the ouster of the university president.
Judge Cleland said his order applies to comments that could reasonably be expected to be disseminated and to comments made on background or without attribution.
Lawyers on both sides have been speaking to banks of cameras and reporters after pretrial hearings at the Centre County Courthouse, a practice that is certain to be limited, if not ended outright, by the judge’s order.
Cleland wrote that the order was “narrowly tailored to achieve its purposes in light of the unprecedented publicity generated by the case” and that he will “broadly construe this order to assure that its purposes are achieved.”
He also warned lawyers to comply with professional conduct rules regarding pretrial publicity, the special responsibilities of prosecutors, and the state court system’s code of civility.