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Judge warns Reality Winner’s attorneys over supporters’ billboard

Though Reality’s attorneys had nothing to do with billboard, judge issues stern warning

Supporters have placed a large billboard supporting imprisoned alleged leaker Reality Winner on Washington Road in Columbia County, GA., highlighting the fact that Winner has spent a year in jail without trial or bail, all for allegedly bringing to light information obviously in the public interest. The add brings attention to a case that has largely been ignored in the US press’s incessant coverage of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

But the judge in Winner’s case, Chief U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall, has issued an order the day after the billboard was put up, demanding attorneys follow court rules barring public statements about the case that they know could “interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice.” The order threatens the attorneys with being held in contempt of court, which could mean jail or fines, or “other measures.”

The order comes despite the fact that Reality’s attorneys had nothing to do with the billboard and have had no communications with the group that put it up.

Former DOJ whistleblower Jesselyn Radack, who represented Thomas Drake when he faced his own Espionage Act charges, said:

Reality Winner’s supporters have every right to put up a billboard. It is clearly protected by the First Amendment. It is chilling that the judge could possibly see this as an effort by one of her attorneys, and shows again how stacked the deck is against her.

Attorney Tor Ekeland, who has represented several defendants facing CFAA charges, commented:

The judge has no power whatsoever to regulate the speech of nonparties in front of the court. Nor is it proper for the judge to discipline attorneys if they had nothing to do with that speech.

Reality’s mother, Billie Winner Davis, said:

Drone whistleblower Lisa Ling noted that this order disadvantages the defense, as the prosecution has already had its say in the public sphere with a press release providing the government’s view.

Judge J. Randall Hall has sided with the government throughout Reality’s pretrial case, repeatedly denying her bail on extremely dubious grounds, claiming Reality “hates the United States and desires to damage national securityty” in a highly politicized ruling that appeal panels have upheld.

At The Intercept, Peter Maas notes the appalling hypocrisy in granting bail to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, suspected of colluding with the Russian government, and not to Reality, calling her prosecution “unfair and unprecedented.”

The government is working to hamper Reality’s defense even further, arguing that her lawyers should not be allowed to cite public news articles about the charged document, because it remains classified despite having been leaked.

Reality’s trial is currently scheduled for October.