Gag order opposed in Tennessee Waltz

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A government effort to keep the accused and their lawyers from talking about the Tennessee Waltz investigation is heavy-handed and was begun after news reports showed a chief prosecution witness to be a liar, state Sen. Ward Crutchfield says in opposing a gag order request.

Prosecutors are seeking federal court orders barring lawyers, defendants and "all representatives" from making "any statements to the news media or any statements designed to be communicated to the news media" about the investigation.

The request focuses on a report in The Commercial Appeal newspaper based on secretly recorded video tapes the government did not want released to the public.

"In fact, the most probative and potentially prejudicial information in the article is the repeated allegations that the government's star witness, Charles Love, 'is lying' and that Love's accusations against an unindicted individual were 'an absolute lie"' Crutchfield says in a court petition.

Love, a lobbyist, has pleaded guilty to passing payoffs to state lawmakers from an FBI front company named E-Cycle Management. He is expected to testify against Crutchfield, a Chattanooga Democrat.

The 10 Tennessee Waltz defendants charged with public corruption include five sitting or former state lawmakers and three current or former county officials from Memphis and Chattanooga. Love and one other defendant were identified by the indictments as "bag men" for some of the public officials.

One of the local officials, Calvin Williams, is also opposing the gag order. Williams, a former top aide to the Shelby County Commission, says in a court petition filed Wednesday that such an order would violate his rights to free speech.

Both he and Crutchfield contend the government request is too broadly drawn.

The investigation is ongoing, and the government said in a gag-order request last week that other indictments may be forthcoming.

"It is apparent," the request says, "that some materials, which have been disclosed to attorneys for both charged defendants, and other persons under investigation, have been further disclosed to the press."

A gag order, the prosection says, will help guarantee fair trials for those already charged and for "other defendants who may be indicted as a result of the same investigation."

Crutchfield says in his petition Tuesday to the U.S. District Court that the government made a big deal out of the Tennessee Waltz indictments in May, with news conferences in Nashville and Memphis.

His arrest during a legislative session was "an obvious and successful attempt to maximize publicity," the petition goes on to say.

"Now, after almost 10 months of daily (news) coverage, the government wants to ... 'gag' the defendants" with no evidence they have improperly disclosed investigative materials, Crutchfield says.

He also contends the government may be worried about leaks to the news media "from its own agents." If so, he says, the court can issue a gag order directed at them.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)