Houston Chronicle

July 11, 2001, 11:40PM

DA, Yates lawyers differ on gag order, briefs say

By MARY FLOOD
Houston Chronicle

The Harris County district attorney's office supports a gag order on lawyers, police and witnesses in the Andrea Pia Yates capital murder case, according to a brief filed in appellate court this week.

But Yates' lawyers filed a brief opposing the gag order and stating that it infringes on their clients' rights. Attorney George Parnham and Wendell Odom Jr. wrote that as Yates' attorneys they have "not only a right but, in fact, a duty to counteract what they perceive as false information concerning their client."

The briefs filed at the 14th Court of Appeals take different sides in the effort of the Houston Chronicle to throw out the order imposed June 26 by state District Judge Belinda Hill.

Hill said public comments about the case would increase publicity and could taint the jury pool before the trial of Yates, a 37-year-old mother who has admitted to drowning her five children in a bathtub June 20.

The newspaper argued Hill's order is unconstitutional, unnecessary to preserve Yates' rights and could be replaced by less restrictive means of ensuring a fair trial.

Scott Durfee, general counsel for the Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, argued in the prosecutor's brief that the Chronicle's petition should be denied by the appellate court because the newspaper has no standing in the case, has not appealed first to the trial judge herself and because the gag order was justifiable.

Prosecutors were neutral on the gag order the day Hill ordered it.

Yates' attorneys supported the Chronicle's position stating that there are ways the court can address a concern for a tainted jury without a gag order.

The appellate court has not indicated whether it will now approve, dismiss or hear arguments on the Chronicle's request to undo the gag order.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle