the federal judge Raul Arias Marxuach considers imposing an order limiting public expression in the case of former Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to protect the judicial process from the publicity it has received locally and internationally.
This type of measure is not unusual in cases that receive wide publicity, especially those involving government officials.
However, unlike before, Judge Arias Marxuach issued an order this afternoon in which he asked the parties to the case to consider their opinion on his proposal to impose the restriction on public expressions that those involved in the litigation can make.
The parties have until August 11 to show cause why the court should not issue the order or suggest modifications.
“The Court takes legal notice that the accusation and subsequent arrest (of Vázquez) has received significant coverage by local, national and international media such as The new daythe Washington Post and the Financial Times, among others,” said Arias Marxuach.
Likewise, it indicated that the court “also observes that the aforementioned reports did not begin with the coverage in advance of the trial.”
“Months before the indictment was issued, the media reported extensively on comments allegedly made by Vázquez and his legal representation in anticipation of his arrest,” he added.
Arias Marxuach, who is president of the Federal Court in San Juan, was referring to the fact that since last May Vázquez’s lawyers had anticipated in several interviews that their client would be charged and arrested by federal authorities.
The former official was arrested on Thursday of last week after a federal Grand Jury indicted her along with the Venezuelan-Italian banker Julio Herrera Velutini and his adviser Mark Rossiniwho was also an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The federal judge noted that “it is evident that the present case has been and will continue to be widely publicized. Therefore, the court finds that the defendant’s rights under the Sixth Amendment” of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment right of the press “must be balanced and guaranteed by an appropriate order of protection”.
Arias Marxuach explained that the order would not constitute prior censorship of the press, but rather seeks to “regulate extrajudicial expressions that may be made by the accused, their lawyers and potential witnesses related to the case.”
As stated, the court considers that there is a “substantial probability” that the comments could end up “contaminating the jury group given the nature and extent of media coverage.”
In that sense, he understands that his proposal is the “least restrictive” to ensure the rights of the accused to “due process”, while “it has been strictly designed to minimize its impact on the relevant rights of the First Amendment.”
The order to show cause published today by the judge includes a draft of the gag order. It presents the usual restrictions in these cases, to limit expressions to the media or through social networks.
It applies to anyone who works for the federal Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies, as well as defendants, their attorneys, “agents,” and staff with access to factual and case information. Similarly, potential witnesses would be limited by the order.
However, the proposed order specifies that they may not discuss matters that “are not in the public record or that could interfere with a fair trial or harm any defendant, the government or the administration of justice.”
Explain what they can talk about information about the case that is released publicly. As an example, the order states that they can be “expressed, without elaborating or characterizing” the general nature of the allegations or defenses.
They may also speak of “information contained in the public records of the case”as well as “any decision or order issued by the court that is a matter of public record.”
Likewise, they may explain the “contents or substance of any motion, step or resolution in the proceedings, to the extent” that they are “of the public record of this case.”
The charges allege that Vázquez removed the commissioner of the Office of Financial Institutions to fulfill his part of a conspiracy agreement with Herrera Velutini, and with the help of Rossini, in exchange for contributions to his gubernatorial campaign.