The Chronicle’s Mary Flood reports that visiting U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, Florida is not off to an auspicious start in handling the criminal prosecution of U.S. District Judge Sam Kent:
The Florida judge who will oversee the criminal trial of U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent issued a gag order in the case to prevent public discussion by parties or court personnel that could interfere with the trial.
Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola late Friday issued the order that also allows him to hold arguments and hearings in chambers and outside of the presence of the public and forbids courthouse personnel from relating information from those hearings to the public.
Vinson said he found it necessary to gag the attorneys and courthouse personnel on his own, without a request from prosecutors or Kent, "to preserve a fair trial by an impartial jury by shielding jurors and potential jurors from prejudicial statements." He said he found a "substantial likelihood" that comments made outside court would "taint the jury pool and will undermine a fair trial to which both the accused and the public are entitled." [. . .]
The order specifically forbids "divulgence of information concerning arguments and hearings held in chambers or otherwise outside the presence of the public."
A copy of the order is here.
The Fifth Circuit Judicial Council’s confidential investigation and resulting sanction of Judge Kent has already been the subject of substantial criticism. Now, in his first action in the case, Judge Vinson enters a dubious gag order and raises the specter that he will conduct frequent non-public hearings. This is not the way to instill confidence that Judge Kent’s case will be handled in a manner similar to other criminal cases of prominent defendants. Like these.