A judge in Portland, Maine went beyond issuing a gag order in a well-known local attorney’s assault conviction — he tried to stifle any reporting on the proceedings whatsoever, the Portland Press Herald reported.
State district court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz reportedly agreed to a request by the defendant, 52-year-old Anthony J. Sineni III, to bar reporters from quoting testimony from either Sineni or his girlfriend, 34-year-old Winona Hichborn, during a court hearing on Monday.
Sineni, who did not testify, was found guilty of misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct after being arrested in September 2014 on charges of domestic violence and witness tampering. Moskowitz agreed to wipe the charges from Sineni’s record within two years if he meets a set of unidentified conditions.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 17 years. If something happens in a criminal court, it’s fair game — I can report what happens,” reporter Scott Dolan told WMTW-TV. “All my years, I have never seen something like this. I have never seen a judge issue an order from the bench barring the media from covering what’s in the public courtroom.”
The Press-Herald defied Moskowitz’s order after consulting with an attorney, and quoted testimony from Hichborn, the only witness during the hearing. She said that Sineni abused her during their 11-year relationship.
“Tony told me before that he is above the law and that if he gets away with this they won’t be able to touch him,” she told the court.
The judge’s decision was also criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and legal experts from the area.
“Our courts are open to the public, and the press is almost always free to report what happens in court,” ACLU attorney Zachary Heiden told the Bangor Daily News. “The alternative to open courts is secret courts, and that is wholly inconsistent with our constitutional principles. In rare instances, courts may be closed to the public, but that is the exception not the rule.”
According to the Portland Sun, Sineni has been practicing law in Portland since 1991. Shortly after his arrest last September, he argued in a statement that the case against him should not be tried in Cumberland County.
But in another unusual move, the affadavits related to his arrest were sealed at the request of state Attorney General Janet T. Mills’ (D) office. The local district attorney’s office referred the case to state officials, citing the amount of cases Sineni had pending at the time.
A spokesperson for the state’s Judicial Branch refused to comment on Moskowitz’s order, saying the case is still pending because another hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday. The case has also been sealed.
Watch a report on Moskowitz’s unusual order, as aired on WMTW-TV on Tuesday, below.