Judge Kristen Hawkins issued the order last week, surprising veteran attorneys who practice in Harris County.
“It’s rare for a judge to issue a gag order on a case on his own,” said Stan Schneider, a longtime criminal attorney with no interest in any of Astroworld’s civil cases. “Rarely do they take the initiative and say this is how we’re going to limit the publicity.”
Schneider points out that most gag orders relate to high-profile criminal cases. He says judges bring them up in high-profile criminal proceedings because those cases often go to trial and it’s important to have a fair jury panel.
“In a civil case, very few cases go to trial and points to the fact that many civil cases are settled out of court and are not of public interest,” said Schneider. “Very few of them will have the same effects as a criminal case.”
Hawkins’ office confirmed to ABC13 that neither the plaintiff nor the defense requested a gag order. In the ruling, the judge cited several reasons for doing it.
These include; prominent topics, coverage of the national and local media, extensive attorney interviews given in the media, extensive social media posts of lawyer.
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“The court found that the willingness of lawyers to independently give interviews and post case facts on social media would only serve to increase pre-trial and pre-trial publicity. ” Hawkins wrote in his order, “The Court further finds that an order restricting attorneys’ extrajudicial comments to the parties is necessary to protect the right of all parties to a fair trial by a fair jury. .”
Although rare, a judge has the power to issue such an order, said Professor Kenneth Williams of the University of South Texas Law School.
“Generally speaking, the parties have the right to speak, including the litigants,” Williams said. “However, the court can also balance that, with the need to provide a fair trial for both parties.”
As a result, Schneider said, it will be harder for the public to get information because a lot of what happens in civil court happens behind closed doors.
“Will the case go to trial? Probably not,” said Schneider. “So there’s no real purpose in this gag order because nothing will be done in public.”
Criminally speaking, Houston police are still investigating the Astroworld tragedy. No one knows if any charges will be filed criminally. There is no gag order on the part of the criminal as nothing is in court yet. However, Williams says the chilling effect is common.
“On the matter of fact, they couldn’t say much because the order said anything that might cause fairness of the trial. The parties could not comment on that.” Williams said.
ABC13 has contacted a number of civil attorneys regarding various Astroworld lawsuits. Some do not know about the gag order.
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https://abc13.com/astroworld-gag-order-civil-cases-festival/11590484/ Astroworld Festival: Gagging Orders Issued to Limit What Lawyers and Clients Can Share Publicly