Shortly before the jury in the Oliver North trial wound up its eighth day of deliberation without a verdict Saturday, the judge in the case cut off direct communications with reporters covering the case.
"Hereafter, no information will emanate from my chambers," U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said in a letter to Carl Stern of NBC News who has been acting as a news media liaison with the court since the trial began.The judge said a lawsuit filed last week by 10 news organizations for public release of a document has made the press corps a party to the case and therefore put reporters in an adversary position.
Since the trial began three months ago, a copy of most documents introduced in court have been made available to the press, and news organizations banded together to reproduce them.
During the jury deliberations, reporters have remained in a press room two floors above the court and relied on Stern's contact with Gesell for information about the progress of the deliberations, including notice when a verdict is reached.
For the first time since the jurors retired to consider the case, reporters were not allowed to wait on the second floor where they spend their day.
Gesell refused to release the paper, a stipulation summarizing intelligence intercepts, on grounds that it "is a classified document." The intercepts, as described in court, were a step-by-step tracking of a shipment of Hawk missiles sent by Israel to Iran in November 1985 with CIA assistance.
The news organizations petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals after Gesell's refusal, and that court ordered the judge to hold a hearing at which a record can be made.
Parties to the news media petition were The Associated Press; Cable News Network Inc.; Capital Cities ABC Inc.; CBS Inc.; Dow Jones & Company Inc.; National Broadcasting Company Inc.; National Public Radio; The New York Times Company; The Times Mirror Company;and The Washington Post.
Reporters from more than 20 other organizations on Saturday wrote to Gesell asking that they be excluded from his new rule.