KSU guest speaker discusses difficulties overcoming gag order

By LAUREN LEATHERS

KENNESAW, Ga. – Lesli N.Gaither, a lawyer who represents several media platforms, met with Kennesaw State University students this week to present information on a recent gag order, as well as to give advice to future journalists going into the field.

Gaither, an attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, represented the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and the Associated Press in successfully challenging a gag order issued last week in South Georgia. She spoke to Dr. Carolyn Carlson’s Media Law class this week.

Lesli

Lesli Gaither. (Photo credit: LinkedIn.com)

Judge issues gag order

The gag order was issued in the highly publicized death of schoolteacher Tara Grinstead, who went missing from Ocilla, Georgia, in 2005. Last month, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke in connection with her disappearance and death.

The defense attorney came forward with a stack of articles asking the judge to issue a restraining order stopping everyone involved in the case from talking to the media.

“They said this was getting out of control and we’re a small town and we don’t have a large jury pool,” said Gaither.

As a result, a gag order  was put into place almost immediately.

“Gag orders in Georgia are fairly rare, but this one came out in a fairly rare circumstance,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she feels the GBI, believing it had solved a 12-year-old cold case, wanted people to know about the case to see that its agents were doing their job well.

“It became a big deal,” said Gaither. “I think the GBI kind of wanted to talk about it.”

Difficulties arise obtaining  gag order

When Gaither requested the motion of the gag order from the clerk’s office she said she was denied. She requested any information the clerk’s office could give her in relation to the case and was, again, denied.

“This is, in my career, the first time I have challenged a motion that I have not read, and gone to argue a motion I have not read,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she told the judge upfront that she had not read the motion prior to challenging the gag order.

“It’s actually the high profiles that get the publicity,” said Gaither. “That doesn’t mean you should shut it down. It just means that’s what people are interested in and what they want to see. When things are gagged we only have rumors to go by.”

Gaither was able to receive  the judge’s gag order from a reporter. It is unknown how the reporter obtained the motion.

Gaither argued in a motion last week that the gag order was too vague and covered too many people. She presented a number of cases in her argument, arguing that the restraints should be narrowed significantly.

Gaither said the judge issued a modified order last Friday as a result of her arguments, and said she has no intentions to appeal.

“In our opinion, it’s still pretty wrong,” said Gaither.

Students react to  challenge of fighting  gag orders

One student in the class asked how it felt to challenge a motion without reading it prior.

In response, Gaither said that she openly admitted to courts that she had not read the motion prior and was unable to obtain a copy of the motion from the clerk’s office.

“It was not a big deal, but it was definitely different” said Gaither.

Senior journalism major Andrew Connard said he respects Gaither for the way she carries herself while speaking of her profession.

The biggest thing that stuck with me was that, as a journalist, I need to always be aware of, and stand up for, my rights,” said Connard.

Lesli speaking

Lesli Gaither speaking to a media law class. (Photo credit: Lauren Leathers)

Gaither said connecting a person who is unaffiliated with a case has become a common mistake that leads to libel lawsuits against the media.

“It is so easy to grab a piece of information, but can be very difficult to verify that your information is really about the same person,” said Gaither.

Gaither said that journalists have to be very careful when using social media to get pictures or additional information about someone, because there are often many people with the same name.

Gaither said her number one piece of advice for journalists going into the field is to be aware that myth identification has become the biggest liability issue for newsrooms.

Media litigation and counseling has become the focus of Gaither’s practice, along with complex commercial litigation.

She has been recognized on multiple occasions from 2011 to 2013 as a Georgia “Rising Star” in the area of First Amendment and Media and Advertising Law. In 2014 to 2016, she was, again, recognized by Super Lawyers magazine in the area of Media and Advertising Law.

 

 

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