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Judge finds KUTV reporter for Jeffs trial in contempt

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2007 8:11 a.m. MDT

ST. GEORGE — A Salt Lake television news reporter was found in contempt of court Wednesday for violating a decorum order issued in the Warren Jeffs rape trial.
KUTV reporter Katie Baker appeared in 5th District Court on Wednesday before Judge James L. Shumate to discuss the contempt charge that was filed against her on Sept. 25.
Shumate ordered Baker to produce a community service story to appear on KUTV's web site and to provide him with a copy of it within 90 days. Once the judge receives evidence that Baker has complied with his order, the contempt charge will be dismissed, said Baker's attorney, Jeff Hunt.
"It's important to note that the judge accepted the fact that this was an honest mistake on her part," said Hunt. "Katie never intentionally violated the court's order."
Baker was accused of violating the court's decorum order that governed media coverage of the high-profile case that attracted worldwide attention. Jeffs, 51, is the leader of a polygamist sect that believes its prophet arranges plural marriages based on a revelation from God.
Reporters were issued credentials to cover the jury selection process, which began on Sept. 7 and concluded on Sept. 11 when a panel of 12 jurors was seated.
The decorum order, which Shumate first issued on Sept. 8 and amended three times during the course of the trial, barred reporters from disclosing anything that would identify a juror or potential juror until Jeffs' trial was over.
In an affidavit filed Monday, Baker admitted that she reviewed the decorum order prior to covering the trial but could not recall reading anything that prohibited her from interviewing prospective jurors.
Baker said she was standing outside the courthouse Sept. 10 and noticed several prospective jurors leaving the building. One woman expressed her strong dislike for Jeffs to Baker, which led Baker to believe the woman would not be selected for the jury and could be interviewed for a story.
Baker's interview with the woman was filmed and aired three times that evening on KUTV and posted on the station's Web site. The next morning, Baker said the court's public information officer called her editor to express a concern over the interview.
Baker said she apologized, removed the story from the station's Web site and sought to personally apologize to the court.
Baker was willing to testify at Wednesday's hearing, Hunt said, but the judge said it wasn't necessary.
Shumate said he was troubled, however, by the neglect Baker showed in not reading the decorum order more thoroughly.
"He felt like there needed to be some kind of consequence and ordered Katie to provide him with a copy of a public interest story that she does within the next 90 days," said Hunt. "She feels bad about what happened and accepts responsibility for it."
Jeffs was convicted Sept. 25 on two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl, Elissa Wall, and her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed.
Jeffs faces a sentence of from five years to life on each charge. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 20.
Steed was charged with one first-degree felony count of rape following his testimony in the Jeffs trial. Steed was booked and released on $5,000 bail and waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 90 days. A status hearing in Steed's case is scheduled for Nov. 2 in 5th District Court.


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com

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