Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh today issued a gag order designed to ensure that former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez can get an impartial jury when he goes on trial for allegedly murdering Odin L. Lloyd in North Attleborough last year.
The 25-page order, which sets rules for both Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter’s staff and for the team of defense lawyers hired by Hernandez, was made public this afternoon. Garsh wrote that she acted because of intense publicity surrounding the case, which has generated millions of links on Google.
“The extraordinary level of media attention to this case requires something more than what ‘ordinarily’ may be sufficient,” she wrote. “Our criminal justice system is premised on the principle that the outcome of a criminal trial must be decided by impartial jurors based only on material admitted into evidence at trial. An outcome affected by extrajudicial statements would violate that basic tenet.’’
The former New England Patriots star is currently being held without bail after pleading not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the June 17 slaying of Lloyd in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough.
Garsh wrote that she was ordering Sutter’s office to make sure that lawyers and civilians who work in his office are instructed on what they can, and cannot, say about the Hernandez prosecution and about matters raised in grand jury proceedings.
Hernandez’s defense sought the order after Sports Illustrated and other media outlets, including The Boston Globe, reported last fall that Hernandez friend and Miami Dolphin lineman Mike Pouncy was served with a grand jury subpoena at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough after the game with the Patriots.
Garsh ruled that Sutter’s office must train nonlawyer employees in the rules already binding on lawyers from both the prosecution and the defense. She also ordered Sutter to conduct internal investigations into future disclosures about the Hernandez case that violate the gag order and attorney ethical rules — and to discipline workers found responsible.
“The realities of this case lead the Court to conclude that it is not enough for the Commonwealth merely to issue appropriate cautions to law enforcement personnel and others,’’ Garsh wrote.
Garsh said she would not look into past instances where the defense contends law enforcement has violated ethical rules by making unauthorized disclosures, and she made a specific ruling that there was no evidence Sutter’s office has broken ethical rules.
“This Court need not and indeed does not find or suggest that the Commonwealth has violated any ethical rule,’’she wrote.
In one section of the ruling, Garsh set out the rules that must be followed.
“None of the lawyers appearing in this case or any person with supervisory authority over them shall release or authorize the release of information about this proceeding that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by any means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing potential trial jurors or witnesses or will have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused,’’ Garsh wrote in one part of her decision.