Martha Stewart media comments might influence appeal, says survey

Martha Stewart's comments after her sentencing for obstruction of justice might plausibly have an effect on the nature or posture of any appellate ruling in her case, according to a survey of appellate judges, trial judges, and lawyers conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and Levick Strategic Communications and made available to JURIST Thursday. Although a majority of the 64 jurists surveyed were confident that appellate judges would be sufficiently insulated from outside influences like comments communicated through news reports, 13 conceded that if they were making the appellate ruling on Stewart they would be "mildly interested" in her comments to the media and one would be "definitely influenced in one direction or another."

Stewart spoke out on her case right after her July 16 sentencing (watch recorded video here) and again last month when she announced her decision to apply for an early prison term (see JURIST's Monitor legal video service for recorded video). During and after her trial she also maintained a defense website where she posted public letters to her supporters. The survey results suggest that such media statements that might reach judges are problematic and even risky, possibly leading to negative and unintended consequences. Stewart persisted in her appeal Thursday, a day before she was slated to report for prison in West Virginia, as her lawyers accused prosecutors of withholding evidence that a Secret Service lab sabotaged the authentication of an important document presented in her defense. Read their letter here [PDF]. Reuters has more. Appeal papers in her case must be filed by October 20.

Respondents to the Pitt Law-Levick survey included 31 appellate judges and five retired appellate judges; seven trial judges; three appellate lawyers; two appellate court law clerks; and 16 other jurists who did not specifically identify their status. Read the full press release on the survey, together with the questionnaire, here [PDF]. Previous coverage of the Martha Stewart case in JURIST's Paper Chase legal news service is available here.

 

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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