An appellate court rescinded a gag order Tuesday that a Baton Rouge judge imposed in a whistle-blower lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses contractors of giving kickbacks to state officials for contracts to elevate homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal sent the matter back to state District Judge Wilson Fields “so that the trial court can determine whether a gag order is appropriate in accordance with the principles discussed in United States v. Brown.”
Jill Craft, who represents two former Shaw Group employees who filed the whistle-blower suit last year, said the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans stated in the Brown case that — before a gag order can be imposed — there must be an affirmative finding of an impact on the jury pool, and the judge must examine less restrictive alternatives.
Fields stated May 29 that “no party in this case or associated with the case is to have any communication with any media outlet whatsoever.”
Craft had argued that the gag order, which the judge imposed without holding a hearing, is “unconstitutionally broad” and there is “no identifiable basis” for it.
“If the trial court determines a gag order is appropriate, written reasons shall be provided articulating the basis for the ruling,” 1st Circuit Judges James Kuhn, John Pettigrew and Mike McDonald wrote in their order.
Attorneys for Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. and the state Office of Community Development had argued that the gag order is constitutional and necessary to prevent any tainting of the jury pool.
Shaw declined comment Tuesday.
Former Shaw employees Christy Weiser and Thomas Pierson claim in their suit against Shaw and OCD that they suffered on-the-job retaliation for raising their allegations of kickbacks in the $750 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Shaw monitors the federally funded home-elevation program for the state.
Shaw and OCD have denied Weiser’s and Pierson’s allegations.
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