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Gag Order Issued for Steele

By Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 30, 1999; Page B05

A federal judge issued an unusual gag order yesterday preventing attorneys for Julie Hiatt Steele, a bit player in the White House sex and perjury scandal, from making public the information they receive from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office while defending Steele on obstruction of justice charges.

U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton granted the "protective order" over the objections of Steele's attorneys and a group of media organizations after Jay Apperson, an associate independent counsel, warned that premature disclosure could "jeopardize an ongoing investigation."

Steele, who did not attend the hearing in Alexandria, is charged with lying to two grand juries when she cast doubt on former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey's claim that she was the victim of a sexual advance from President Clinton. Steele told the grand juries that Willey had not told her about the alleged 1993 encounter. The Richmond resident, who is the only person in the scandal to be criminally prosecuted, also is charged with trying to persuade a friend to say she had not passed on Willey's allegations.

Steele attorney Nancy Luque said Starr's request was highly unusual and inappropriate. "I have never seen a protective order like this in 20 years of practicing law," she said. "They don't want the truth . . . about what happened in this case to emerge."

As part of preparing for Steele's March 30 trial, Starr's office must hand over relevant evidence to Steele's attorneys. That information, which could include grand jury testimony and other evidence that has not been made public, is what Apperson asked Hilton to protect.

Lawyers who practice regularly in the Alexandria federal courts said that protective orders are common in espionage cases, where some of the information is classified, and in ongoing drug conspiracy investigations.

"A criminal defendant receives this for one purpose only: to defend themselves in court. It's not to be used for fund-raising or to be waved around on the Larry King show or to tip off potential targets," Apperson said. Hilton agreed, telling Steele's lawyers, "If they have information that has not been made public . . . they have a right not to make it public. . . . If they send you something that they say is not to be released, then you don't release [it] without coming back to me."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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