A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has issued a rare gag order in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former Montgomery County employee against council member Isiah Leggett, barring both sides and their attorneys from discussing the civil suit with the media.
The order, granted June 28 by Judge John J. Mitchell, was sought by Leggett's attorney. The lawyer said "extraordinary" relief is needed because attorneys for the former employee have engaged in "outrageous behavior" that jeopardizes a fair trial and threatens to irretrievably tarnish Leggett's reputation.
Gag orders are generally issued in highly publicized criminal cases when the judge fears that the actions of attorneys involved could jeopardize a fair trial, according to lawyers not involved in the case.
The lawsuit, filed last month by Leggett's former aide, Anne Renee Colbert, has received little coverage in the daily newspapers that circulate in the county, but has attracted the attention of the county's weeklies. The lawsuit comes as the Democratic council member seeks a second term in this fall's county elections.
Roger W. Titus, the private attorney retained by the county to represent Leggett, did not cite the upcoming elections in his motion for a gag order. However, in another motion asking the judge to expedite the case, Titus argued that the outcome of the election could be affected if Colbert's allegations are left unrefuted.
Mitchell has yet to rule on Titus's request for a hastened court schedule.
Colbert, who was paid $23,759 a year until she was fired this year, alleged that Leggett required her to have sex with him over a period of three years in exchange for job security and promises of promotions.
Leggett has called the allegations "utterly ridiculous" and said that Colbert was fired because of excessive absences. In court documents, Leggett's attorney paints a picture of Colbert as a duplicitous woman with a history of emotional disturbances, upset because Leggett selected someone else as his top aide.
Titus's motions also contain harsh criticism of her attorneys, alleging that they violated court procedures and lawyers' rules of professional conduct by acting in bad faith and bringing a frivolous lawsuit.
Norman G. Schneider, an attorney for Colbert, opposed the gag order, denying there was any attempt to try the case in the press.
According to court records, Schneider said that he did not give copies of the complaint to the press after it was filed on June 14, and that he did not speak with reporters "until contacted."
He added that Colbert "has not spoken -- and has been advised not to speak -- to the press."
Schneider noted that County Attorney Rocky Sorrell had spoken to the press, saying that an investigation by his office disputed Colbert's allegations.
Schneider questioned the investigation, noting in his motions that only seven people were identified by the county attorney as witnesses and four of them had ties to Leggett and his reelection bid.
Mitchell's order does not seal the court record nor does it prohibit the press from writing about the case.Staff writer Veronica T. Jennings contributed to this report.