FULLERTON — Attorneys for accused murderer Michael R. Pacewitz tried Wednesday to stop the news media from publishing jailhouse interviews with him, but a judge refused to issue such an order, saying freedom of the press was at stake.
Deputy Public Defender Kevin J. Phillips sought a temporary restraining order to bar The Times and the Orange County Register from publishing comments Pace-witz made to reporters in a joint, one-hour interview in the medical ward at Orange County Jail. Phillips argued that disclosure of Pacewitz's comments would be so inflammatory that it would damage his right to a fair trial.
"The constitutional right to a fair trial outweighs the First Amendment right" of freedom of the press, Phillips said.
But Municipal Court Judge Margaret R. Anderson rejected that argument, saying Phillips would have to prove an "overriding, overwhelming threat" of damage to Pacewitz's rights to justify a restraint on press freedom.
"Part of what this nation's always been protected by is a free press," Anderson said.
Pacewitz, 21, is accused of stabbing to death 3-year-old Marcelline Onick while he was baby-sitting the child at her Fullerton apartment last Saturday. Pacewitz knows the toddler's mother, Joanne Boydston, from church.
Phillips contended that the reporters had violated a protective order issued by Municipal Court Judge Linda L. Miller at Pacewitz's arraignment March 5. The order forbids interviews with anyone but lawyers or investigators from the public defender's office.
But Anderson noted that no order had been issued against the news media.
"I have no order against anyone but the sheriff," she said. "There was no order on (reporters), no gag order on The Times to stay away."
Glen A. Smith, an attorney representing The Times, said that the Supreme Court consistently reverses orders that forbid publication or broadcast by the news media because they "are presumed to be unconstitutional."