Media Draw Ire of Trial Judge
As the jury deliberated Tuesday for a fourth day, the judge in the trial of David Westerfield vented his anger at portions of the media and labeled as “idiots” a pair of Los Angeles radio talk show hosts.
The pair has been deriding the jury for taking the time it has to decide Westerfield’s fate.
Superior Court Judge William Mudd also refused to reverse his order banning a producer of a San Diego radio talk show from his courtroom for the remainder of Westerfield’s trial on charges of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.
River Stillwood, a producer for the Rick Roberts show on KFMB-AM (760), had refused to divulge the source of a story on Roberts’ “Court of Public Opinion.” The story focused on an insulting remark allegedly made by Danielle’s father, Damon, to the mother of Westerfield defense attorney Steven Feldman. Van Dam had been warned by Mudd not to be disruptive.
According to the KFMB story, van Dam’s comment surfaced during a closed-door session last week attended by Mudd and opposing lawyers. Journalists had been excluded from the session.
Stillwood’s attorney said that her client did not know who had told the station about Van Dam’s alleged comment, and that, even if she did, she is protected by California’s shield law for journalists.
Mudd responded that though his ruling banishing Stillwood might be overturned by an appeals court, he felt obligated to “protect the integrity of this proceeding.”
Mudd said Stillwood will be barred from court when the verdict is read, and during the penalty phase if one is required. And he said she won’t be allowed to conduct post-trial interviews with jurors in the courtroom.
The judge has made no secret of his displeasure with Roberts, who has used his show as a forum for callers to discuss, among other topics, Mudd’s handling of the trial and his decision to halt it for a week so he could take a vacation.
“[Stillwood] is out and will remain out because she is the representative of an individual who takes great glee and delight in shoving it in this court’s face in the name of the 1st Amendment,” Mudd said.
He also criticized KFMB-TV (Channel 8), the CBS affiliate in San Diego, for running a picture of Westerfield’s 18-year-old son, Neal, who was called as a prosecution witness. Mudd had ruled that the son could not be photographed while he was testifying and asked the media not to try to photograph him leaving the courthouse.
Mudd said KFMB was the only station to use “paparazzi-style pictures” of the son leaving the courthouse. “They just don’t get it,” he said.
KFMB news director Fred D’Ambrosi said the station used a yearbook photo of Neal Westerfield, not pictures taken as he left the courthouse. And he said the decision to bar Stillwood is unfair and unfounded.
“She violated no court order,” he said. “If the judge can throw her out, he can throw out anyone who has done a story he doesn’t like.”
Mudd’s strongest words were reserved for the afternoon radio team of John and Ken from KFI-AM (640) in Los Angeles. Broadcasting from outside the courthouse on Monday, the pair referred to jurors as “broccoli,” their all-purpose put-down, for not having reached a verdict yet.
On Tuesday morning, court security personnel refused to let the KFI van park on a street adjacent to the courthouse that has been reserved for the media.
“If I had my druthers, idiots from a Los Angeles talk station would not be outside this courthouse acting like teenagers,” Mudd said.
Ken Chiampou and John Kobylt said they were surprised at Mudd’s anger, noting that their show was mild compared to what they did outside the O.J. Simpson trial without arousing the wrath of authorities in Los Angeles.
“He’s a control freak,” Kobylt said. “It drives him crazy that he can’t control everybody.”
“Judge Mudd is acting [like] a sheriff of a small town who just isn’t going to put up with this stuff in his town,” Chiampou said.
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