The public prosecutor’s office initially applied for a more extensive silence order, citing “overwhelming media interest”.
A judge ruled Friday that attorneys in separate criminal and civil trials related to the 2022 death of Eric Richins – who prosecutors say was fatally drugged by his wife – have limited opportunities to tell the press.
Eric Richins’ wife, Kouri Richins, was charged with murder on May 8 in connection with her husband’s death. In addition, there are ongoing probate proceedings over Eric Richins’ estate, as well as a separate civil suit over his trust deed and ongoing custody proceedings over the couple’s three children.
Summit County prosecutors on Wednesday requested a broader silence order, demanding that all parties connected to each case, including all witnesses and law enforcement officials, should not be allowed to speak freely to the press and citing “unexpected events”. and “Overwhelming Media Interest” in the recently filed murder case.
Instead, 3rd Circuit Judge Richard Mrazik on Friday limited the order of silence to attorneys involved in each case, as well as paralegals, experts and investigators.
Kouri Richins is accused of poisoning her husband Eric Richins with fentanyl, which she allegedly obtained from an acquaintance six days before his death on March 4, 2022.
In March, a year after the death of Eric Richins, Kouri Richins published a children’s book aimed at helping children cope with the loss of a loved one. On May 8, she was charged with one count of aggravated murder and three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.
Wednesday’s filing said members of non-local media “camped out” outside the Summit County District Attorney’s office, attempted to get to the jail to speak with Kouri Richins and “did at least one key witness in the case”. The filing also states that Richins communicated with a documentary filmmaker, according to a review of Kouri Richins’ prison stints.
Prosecutors argued in the motion that it was “imperative” for the court to prohibit testimony to the media during the case – specifically by attorneys in all related civil and criminal proceedings; advise employees and employees; law enforcement and other witnesses.
“If such an order is issued, any information released by these national and international media outlets that is outside the public record and prior to the final determination of this matter cannot be trusted by anyone with actual knowledge of this matter.” , is affected by it.” “The court order to silence,” says the motion.
Attorneys in the custody case argued Friday that the gag order could help prevent a public custody battle, particularly when the three children involved could potentially see what some family members are claiming about others. Prosecutors in the murder case also argued that the silence order would help preserve the integrity of the trial.
But when Mrazik issued his limited silence warrant on Friday, he said that “the mere existence of a compelling interest is not sufficient to override the presumption in favor of free and unrestricted expression.”
“To maintain the integrity of the trial – that is, to ensure that Ms Richins, who is presumed innocent, receives a fair, impartial and timely trial – other tools are available, such as a detailed one [examination of fairness and impartiality] with jury selection or a potential change of location if things get out of hand,” he said.
Mrazik directed the attorneys and their associates to comply with Rule 3.6 of the American Bar Association’s Rules of Conduct. The rule states that attorneys involved in a litigation may not make any statements which they believe will be made public and could prejudice the proceedings.
The limited confidentiality order issued on Friday applies to the individual criminal, probate and escrow cases, as in these cases all financial transactions relevant to the criminal proceedings are presented as evidence.
“Nevertheless, the motion-gag arrangement is otherwise rejected without prejudice,” said Mrazik. “If circumstances change in unexpected ways, the balance between the overriding interest expressed by the state and the protections afforded by the First Amendment may change.”