Monday, June 22, 2020

New Hampshire ACLU Exposes Fatal Flaws Behind Belknap County Attorney's Request For Gag Order in Amicus Brief

The Belknap County Attorney's office recently filed a request for an order to prohibit all pre-trial publicity. This is very familiar territory to me. Though I've asked so many advocacy groups to help in my previous efforts, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the first agency to truly step in to file anything on my behalf.

The Amicus Curiae brief filed Friday by ACLU-NH is a master stroke of legalese. For those who don't appreciate the antiquated language of the law, I can put it in plain English for you. This brief proves that the County Attorneys office used junk law and bogus logic to seek their injunction, which would clearly represent a prior restraint against free speech. Even if the rules of professional conduct apply to me, which they don't, the rule cited by Deputy County Attorney Keith Cormier (3.6) wouldn't even prohibit my speech in this scenario if those rules were applicable to me. Their order would be too general in nature (overbroad) and too easily used to simply silence all my thoughts on the case rather than accomplish any clear and necessary objective on the State's behalf.

This passage says it all about the constitutional weaknesses exposed in this brief:

"Moreover, even if there were a basis to issue the requested order—which there is not—the proposed order is unconstitutionally overbroad. While the practice on commenting on open cases may feel unusual to attorneys and judges in New Hampshire, “the knowledge that every criminal trial is subject to contemporaneous review in the forum of public opinion is an effective restraint on possible abuse of judicial power. Without publicity, all other checks are insufficient: in comparison of publicity, all other checks are of small account.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1035 (1991) (opinion of Kennedy, J.) (ellipsis omitted) (quoting In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 270-71 (1948)). “[T]he criminal justice system exists in a larger context of a government ultimately of the people, who wish to be informed about the happenings in the criminal justice system, and, if sufficiently informed about those happening, might wish to make changes in the system.” Id. at 1070."

In addition to the ACLU stepping in to help out, the bonehead move by these prosecutors to seek a gag order also brought some local newspapers out of the woodwork to report on my case. The Laconia Daily Sun published my initial letter to the editor as well as this follow up:

Then the Union Leader stepped up to the plate with an article that included one of the best quotes from my objection to the gag order request:

“'Livernois and now his assistant, continue to misrepresent and warp the facts of this case and even the law itself to support their incessant need to silence Bergeron’s true accounting of how this case unfolded,' he wrote."

The tide is turning, and the court of public opinion is in session. The traditional courts are still shuttered. There's no word on when open, in-person hearings will be allowed again.

I fully support the decent, hard working people in local, state and national law enforcement agencies who are truly doing the best they can amid a nationwide backlash against the profession. What I can't support is abuse of power, negligent use of taxpayer funds to pursue a vendetta, and a useless prosecution like this one that is already backfiring on the County Attorney's office.

Ultimately I'm being accused of violating a set of rules I'm not even officially bound to follow by people who violated those rules repeatedly in this case. You can't make this shit up. Not only are these two prosecuting legal professionals subject to the very same rules they want to pin on me, they are considered especially liable when they break the rules. Rule 8.4 of these conduct requirements deals with "The Integrity of the Profession." The motion for a gag order itself violates the spirit of this rule. It's a deception, done out of a sense of revenge and abuse of power rather than on behalf of the community's best interests.

Cormier wrote this "pot-calling-the-kettle-black" fallacy into his bogus request for a court order:

"The purpose of Rule 3.6 is clear – it is to protect the integrity of the judicial system. Extra-judicial statements in the media strike at the heart of the fair and impartial administration of justice and threaten to undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system, and therefore cannot be allowed to occur."

Keith Cormier and Andrew Livernois are by no means examples of officers of the law standing up for integrity. They are attempting to bury the facts at every turn in this case. They are both just symptoms of a greater problem: protecting and thereby perpetuating bad police work. This kind of abuse and waste needs to end, and as the ACLU reminds us twice in this brief, Andrew Livernois is up for election this coming November. Maybe it's time for him to go back to private practice.


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