A state district judge in Lafayette who last year sealed an accused child killer’s court files now plans to hold the press in contempt if they publish photos or video of Landon Broussard wearing a prison outfit and bound by wrist and ankle shackles.
Judge Laurie Hulin’s planned press restrictions are mentioned in a recently published summary of a Nov. 18 court hearing for Broussard. According to the document, Hulin could hold in contempt those in the media who “capture any images of the defendant in shackles or prison garb by video or photography.”
Media law experts on Tuesday said Hulin’s restrictions raise troubling constitutional concerns.
“The court’s order prohibiting the media from taking or reproducing photos or video of the defendant in shackles or prison garb at any time, including when he is being transported to and from the courthouse, appears to be an unconstitutional prior restraint and a violation of the First Amendment,” media attorney Mary Ellen Roy said.
If convicted, Broussard faces the death penalty in the November 2012 killing of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son, Julian Madera, whose naked, unresponsive body Broussard brought to his grandmother’s home on Kaliste Saloom Road. Broussard is charged with first-degree murder.
Hulin, who has been a judge for one year, presided over the all-day Nov. 18 hearing that addressed 48 motions — or requests — made by Broussard’s attorneys, Clay LeJeune and Elliot Brown. Some of the motions dealt with media coverage of the hearings and the trial, which is scheduled for July 25.
LeJeune and Brown asked for a total ban on media coverage of pretrial hearings, and also a ban on photos of Broussard in chains and prison garb, which the attorneys said would be seen by potential jurors who could be prejudiced by the sight.
Hulin appears to have compromised with partial restrictions, which will be more fully detailed in a written order that she will release. For now, no one knows the extent of those restrictions or when the order will be issued. Hulin’s office did not return a call Tuesday seeking clarification.
“In high-profile death penalty cases, judges do restrict media access to the courts and impose gag orders on the participants,” said Loyola Law School professor Dane Ciolino. “But some of (Hulin’s) orders are unusual.”
Ciolino said news outlets already have photos and video of Broussard in chains and his prison outfit, and that publishing or airing new or archived photos and video footage should not be prohibited.
“To suggest that you can’t do that really does raise serious First Amendment concerns,” he said. “This kind of sweeping prohibitions on reporting, particularly a photo the media already has, does raise a serious question on prior restraint on media speech.”
Hulin inherited the case at the beginning of 2015 after Judge Durwood Conque retired. Late last year, she decided to seal most of the files in the Broussard case. Hulin’s law clerk, Sy Savoy, said at the time that the judge was continuing Conque’s order that the case files be sealed.
Conque in 2013 did order some files to be sealed but only a few.
Ciolino, the Loyola law professor, said court files should be sealed only when there is “a compelling need.”
“That kind of sweeping order is questionable,” Ciolino said. “It’s one thing to have some portions of the record sealed. … But a blanket order prohibiting the media from seeing the entire record … it’s got to be more targeted than that.”
Hulin’s decision to shutter public access to the Broussard case is the latest example of sealed court cases in the 15th Judicial District.
In 2014, a judge closed off public access in the first-degree murder case of Seth Fontenot. An intervention by an attorney for The Advocate and KATC-TV3 later led to the files being reopened.
And late last year, the court files in Lafayette Parish Sheriff-elect Mark Garber’s divorce case were sealed. Access to the Garber case was re-established after press inquiries.