UPDATE 12:05 p.m. A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled this morning that he wouldn't impose a gag order sought by a prosecutor against a defense attorney today for making comments outside the courtroom to members of the local media.
Judge Michael Duffy ruled against a pretrial publicity motion submitted by Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray, who sought to limit the information that defense attorney Chris Casciola could discuss with the local television and print media.
Casciola represents San Luis Obispo firefighter John Mason, who's accused of assault and battery against a man at a San Luis Obispo bar while off duty.
By rules of professional conduct, lawyers aren't supposed to make comments outside court that might influence a jury. But among the exceptions to the rule are comments lawyers might make about evidence presented in open court.
Gray said that the law, created after the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the 1990s, applies to this case and prevents lawyers from "trying the case in the media."
But Duffy said that he reviewed the exhibits presented by Gray — including reports by The Tribune as well as by KCOY and KSBY television stations — and found the comments highlighted "items heard in evidence."
"I don't intend to issue any order," Duffy said. "I'd just like everyone to be mindful of those restrictions."
In his interview, Casciola talked about how some of the testimony showed "mutual combat" between the his client and the alleged victim, Jory Brigham. Casciola also highlighted testimony from a witness who said Brigham poked his client in the chest about 30 times.
Gray argued that one comment Casciola made noted that Mason was a "well-respected" firefighter, which she said wasn't introduced into evidence.
But Casciola also said that photos of Brigham's injuries submitted to the media by a civil lawyer could be viewed as potentially prejudicial as well. But the prosecution made no mention of those photos. Casciola also argued that publicity in past higher profile court cases hasn't seemed to prejudice county juries.
Casciola also said that Gray called most of the witnesses to the stand at the preliminary hearing who were mentioned in the case's police report.
Limiting discussions with the media therefore was "like closing the barn door after the horses had already been let out," Casciola said.
Mason has pleaded not guilty to charges. A readiness conference in the case is scheduled for Jan. 31.
Original story: Attorneys contesting assault and battery charges against a San Luis Obispo firefighter are scheduled to argue on Thursday morning about whether a gag order should be allowed in the case.
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray filed a motion for a pretrial publicity order that would essentially forbid lawyers from commenting outside court about the case against John Ryan Mason.
Gag orders, if granted, typically include limited information that can be discussed outside court, however, such as hearing dates and any plea entered.
Gray cited rules of professional conduct that ban attorneys from making an “extrajudicial statement” that could prejudice a jury.
Defense attorney Chris Casciola said in an interview with local print and television reporters outside court after a preliminary hearing on Sept. 1 that the testimony presented in open court showed “mutual combat” and his client acted in self defense.
Casciola had not had an opportunity to present his witnesses in the hearing, the conclusion of which was postponed to the following week.
Gray has alleged that Mason, who was off-duty at a San Luis Obispo bar when the fight occurred, was the aggressor in the incident that resulted in the victim, Jory Brigham, breaking bones in his face.
Casciola is expected to argue against a gag order, saying information that’s public record is exempt from the rule Gray cited.
The hearing is set for 10 a.m. before San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy.