Judge denies gag order in Bethel sex abuse case

ldemer@adn.comAugust 22, 2013 

A Fairbanks judge has rejected a defense lawyer's request for a gag order preventing the state Office of Children's Services from discussing or releasing records in the case of a former foster parent now accused of sexually abusing two children.

The ruling by Superior Court Douglas Blankenship was issued Monday in two criminal cases against Peter Tony, 69, who along with his wife, Marilyn, provided foster care in Bethel for 14 years, ending in 1998. The couple then went on to operate a home child care in Bethel. Tony is now accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old foster daughter back in 1998 and a 4-year-old in the home day care last year. Marilyn died in June.

Tony's defense lawyer, Mark Osterman with the state Office of Public Advocacy, asked for a gag order, saying that information being released by the state Office of Children's Service could hurt his client's chances for a fair trial.

Reporters had requested and received copies of the couple's foster care licensing file, though many pages were withheld and key portions were redacted. OCS officials also had given interviews about the agency's role in overseeing the foster home. The records, while incomplete, showed that there had been at least six complaints about the foster home; only the 1998 sexual abuse report was confirmed.

Blankenship wrote that the defense hadn't made its case and that OCS didn't appear to cross any lines in releasing the information.

"The court cannot justify a prior restraint on the First Amendment right of the press to obtain information under the Alaska Public Disclosure statutes," the judge wrote. He is hearing the case because of defense objections to one Bethel judge and prosecution objections to the other.

The judge did, however, caution both the defense and the prosecution to avoid making any comments or releasing any information that could hurt Tony's chances of a fair trial.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 

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