Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forde supporter attempts to sneak into courtroom

Lawless speaking with 
Judge Leonardo.
An ardent supporter of accused murder Shawna Forde violated a court order this morning when she entered the courtroom of Judge John S. Leonardo at Pima County Superior Court.

Earlier this week just before opening statements in the case, all subpoenaed witnesses were ordered to remain outside the courtroom until they are called to testify. One of those subpoenaed witnesses was Laine Lawless, who operates a website called Justice for Shawna Forde and advocates on her behalf in some media circles.

On Tuesday, Lawless objected to being ordered from the courtroom. “I was told I was not going to be a witness,” she said.  To which Judge Leonardo replied: “If you expect to be a witness you should not be discussing your testimony with anyone.”

Lawless stated on Tuesday: “I have not discussed any potential testimony,” and left.

This morning, she returned with a couple of bags of clothing, which she provided to defense counsel Jill Thorpe. After the first witness had testified and the second witness of the day, Melanie Aranda, Forde’s sister, was being questioned by Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson, a woman with the facial features of Lawless with black hair that looked like a wig, wearing a black overcoat entered the courtroom and sat down behind detectives. Lawless’ normal hair color is white.

Representatives of local media were about to call her presence to the attention of court officials when a detective turned around and realized who it was. He got the attention of Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay who asked the court to stop proceedings.

The jury was led from the courtroom and Judge Leonardo was informed of the situation. “Ms. Lawless is standing here in some sort of disguise,” Unklesbay said.

Leonardo questioned Lawless as to why she was in apparent violation of his earlier order regarding witnesses. “I am a citizen reporter and have First Amendment rights to be here as any other reporter here,” Lawless said.

Leonardo questioned counsel as to whether Lawless was still under subpoena. “We have an agreement with the state that she remain under subpoena,” said defense attorney Eric Larsen.

Johnson informed Leonardo that she had received an email from Lawless asserting her right to be present in the courtroom during trial. “Despite what she may believe we have not made any decisions as to whether she would be called as a witness,” she said.

Unklesbay told the court that the previous witness had mentioned to him that Lawless had been discussing the case in the hallway outside the courtroom with another individual prior to her summons to the courtroom to testify. He asked Leonardo to order Lawless to not come to the courthouse unless she was summoned to testify in the case. Larsen added that she be ordered from blogging about the case or doing radio interviews as well. “She has had conversations with my client at the jail about daily court events,” he said.

Leonardo agreed to the requests by the lawyers and ordered Lawless not to come to the courthouse unless she was informed she would be testifying. He also reiterated his earlier order to not discuss her testimony. Lawless asked if he was issuing gag order. “You may call it what you want, but that is my order,” Leonardo said.

Lawless escorted out 
of the courtroom.
Detectives, who had investigated the homicides that are the subject of the court proceeding, then escorted Lawless from the courtroom and the courthouse.