Neither side is allowed to publicly discuss the case of a middle school teacher charged with having sex with a student.
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2005
TAMPA - Debra Lafave may be the talk of the town but a Hillsborough judge had four simple words for attorneys involved in her case Friday: Keep your mouths shut.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman issued a gag order, barring a prosecutor and Lafave's attorney from talking publicly about the case. With roughly two weeks left before Lafave, 25, goes to trial on charges she had sex with a 14-year-old student at Greco Middle School, the controversial ruling dealt a severe blow to defense attorney John Fitzgibbons, effectively barring him from using one of the best weapons in his arsenal: the media.
"I don't see what the harm is in telling these guys from this point on in order to get a fair and impartial jury you guys keep your mouths shut," Timmerman said.
Several media lawyers present at Friday's hearing did see the harm, however.
Attorneys for the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune parent company Media General, Court TV and WTSP protested that the order violated the First Amendment. Despite their reminders about the constitutional right to free speech, the judge said the gag rule would remain in effect until Tuesday when media attorneys are expected to be heard further on the issue.
Timmerman said he worries that comments published in the media could prejudice potential jurors and make it difficult to select a panel from the 100-member jury pool expected for the Dec. 5 trial.
"There's not going to be a single person out of those 100 people that's going to come in and not have heard about this case unless they're living out in the woods in Wimauma somewhere," Timmerman said.