Californian Opposes Motion for Gag Order in Priest Molest Case

By Sunita Vijayan
Salinas Californian
April 24, 2009

The Salinas Californian is opposing a motion for a gag order in the case of a local priest accused of sodomizing a 16-year-old boy.

Lawyers for the Rev. Antonio Cortes of St. Mary of The Nativity Catholic Church in Salinas requested the gag order, which would prevent attorneys and law enforcement officers from discussing the case with the public, including the media.

A hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. today in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.

The Californian has hired the law firm of Dietrich, Glasrud, Mallek & Aune, based in Fresno. Attorney Bruce Owdom filed a letter opposing the motion for the gag order with the clerk of the Superior Court before the 4 p.m. deadline Thursday, and will represent the newspaper at today's hearing.

Gag orders in criminal judicial proceedings are rare in Monterey County, the District Attorney's Office said Thursday. In the roughly 5,400 cases filed here in the past three years, lawyers have sought this protective order only "a handful" of times, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz.

"Attorneys only ask for that when there are serious issues," Spitz said.

The purpose of a gag order is to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial. Cortes' lawyers say their client's right was threatened when prosecutor Rolando Mazariegos talked to two local newspapers, including The Californian, about the case earlier this week.

"We cannot get a fair trial with the [district attorney] leaking information," said defense attorney Miguel Hernandez. "There's a potential for prejudice. ... We're trying to ensure a fair trial and [keep the] prosecutor from trying the case in the newspaper."

The Californian argues that evidence is insufficient to support Hernandez's claim of a threat to justice.

Cortes, arrested April 16 and being held in Monterey County Jail on $750,000 bail, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to one felony count of sodomizing a person under the age of 18 and 12 felony misdemeanor counts, including providing alcohol to a minor and child molestation.

He was additionally charged Thursday with two felony counts of possessing child pornography.

Other gag order cases

In the past three years, local judges have placed gag orders on at least three county cases:

•In June 2008, Judge Richard Curtis issued a protective order in the James Lamb case after problems arose in finding the convicted sex offender a residence. Lamb was eventually placed at a home at 1230 River Road.

•In October 2007, Langston Williams was arrested on suspicion of fatally stabbing his younger brother. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, the brothers had moved to Salinas to play sports for Hartnell College. A gag order is in place and the case is ongoing.

•In February 2007, Judge Russell Scott issued a gag order in the double-murder case against John Kenney, who was accused of killing his neighbors in Carmel Valley. He has since been convicted of the crime and is serving a prison sentence.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.