Federal prosecutors are telling District 7 Councillor Chuck Turner, whom they've charged with corruption, to pipe down, citing the intense media coverage of the case. Turner has pledged to fight the gag order.
In a motion filed on Monday in U.S. District Court, U.S. Assistant Attorney John McNeil asked for the gag order to be imposed on Turner, preventing him from talking about the case and any materials the government may have to give him over the course of the case.
"Defendant Turner has made clear through his public statements that he intends to press his case in the media prior to trial and to act as 'his own lawyer' in that regard," McNeil wrote. "Mr. Turner has held a series of press conferences and rallies since he was charged in this matter, aimed in part at bolstering his character and attacking the government's motives for seeking an indictment against him from the grand jury. It can fairly be inferred that Mr. Turner will continue such press conferences and rallies in the future and, in the absence of a protective order, he will selectively use discovery provided by the government as part of his media campaign."
At his rallies, Turner has blasted U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and the media over the charges of accepting a $1,000 bribe, which he has denied. A grand jury last month indicted him and former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson in the case as co-conspirators.
A statement released by Turner's "Campaign for Truth and Light," said, "Councilor Turner believes that by signing the protective [gag] order, he would be giving the opportunity to US Attorney's Office to continue to leak alleged evidence to the press without any threat or challenge. The government has already violated their "protective order" by indiscriminately releasing information as it sees fit. Councilor Turner believes neither he nor the court should aid US Attorney Sullivan's attempt to subvert his legal responsibilities."
In his motion, McNeil said that Turner's public comments may also be hurting Wilkerson's right to a fair trial. Wilkerson, a co-defendant who has agreed to the gag order, is charged with accepting $23,500 in cash bribes in exchange for action on legislation. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
"In this case, the charges currently pending against Ms. Wilkerson are more substantial than those faced by Mr. Turner and the evidence more extensive," McNeil wrote. "Moreover, the manner in which the defendants have responded to the charges could hardly have been more different. Absent a protective order, Mr. Turner could release recordings and other materials which would substantially inculpate Ms. Wilkerson and impinge on her right to a fair trial and an impartial jury."
Wilkerson has played it largely low-key, privately meeting with staunch supporters and accusing black ministers of conspiring against her with the FBI, a charge ministers vigorously deny.
As precedent, prosecutors cited a similar gag order imposed on former House Speaker Thomas Finneran when he was involved in a perjury case over redistricting.
McNeil said Turner has "a right to speak about the pending charges," but neither he nor the public have a constitutional right to release evidence provided by the government.