Attorneys Agree Not to Discuss Salinas Priest Case with Public

By Sunita Vijayan
The Salinas Californian
April 29, 2009

Salinas attorney J. Hernandez, right, addresses Judge Adrienne Grover in court April 22 during the Rev. Antonio Cortes' arraignment on child molestation charges.

Attorneys have agreed to refrain from publicly discussing the case of a Salinas parish priest accused of molesting a teenager, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office said.

The agreement follows a hearing Friday in which a defense attorney requested a gag order preventing law enforcement officers and lawyers from speaking with the media regarding the case involving the Rev. Antonio Cortes.

During the hearing before Superior Court Judge Russell Scott, an attorney hired by The Salinas Californian argued against the proposed gag order.

Cortes, who is accused of molesting a 16-year-old boy, was arrested April 16 at St. Mary of The Nativity Church at 1702 Second Ave.

The Diocese of Monterey has suspended Cortes from his duties.

He is being held at county jail on suspicion of three felony counts of sodomy of a person under 18 and possession of child pornography and 12 misdemeanor counts of child molestation, child cruelty, providing alcohol to a minor and immoral acts before a child.

He remained in custody late Tuesday afternoon with bail set at $750,000. Cortes, 41, has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Miguel Hernandez, Cortes' attorney, said Tuesday that the agreement with Deputy District Attorney Rolando Mazariegos was made soon after Friday's hearing.

"We both saw each other's position, [so] we decided to make it voluntary," said Hernandez, explaining why both parties decided against waiting for the judge's ruling instead. "It was a coming together of minds."

Scott took the arguments under submission but did not reveal when he was to make a decision. Hernandez said the agreement means he has withdrawn his request for a gag order on the case.

He said the agreement also includes law enforcement agencies, including Salinas police officers and district attorney investigators. However, Hernandez said, it does not prevent the public from accessing information from the case files or attending court proceedings.

"We agreed to do what we essentially do anyway, which is not discussing the facts of a case," said Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey, who is now fielding questions in place of Mazariegos.

The attorney hired by The Salinas Californian, Bruce A. Owdom of Fresno-based law firm Dietrich, Glasrud, Mallek & Aune, said Tuesday that the agreement is considered good news as the court has not formally imposed the order itself.

Owdom had stated that the case still in the preliminary stages, a gag order "would be an unconstitutional prior restraint" on the freedom of speech.

Terry Feinberg, general manager for The Salinas Californian and El Sol, agreed with Owdom, stating the agreement is still "a reasonable outcome" as it protects the public's right to know an issue the newspaper was fighting for in the case.

According to the court records that referred to the Salinas police affidavit, Cortes is accused of sodomizing the boy April 14. A search warrant, as described through the affidavit, said Cortes' cell phone contained stored images of juveniles - one of which was an unidentified young boy with his shirt off.

The affidavit further cites two condoms found in Cortes' wallet.



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