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Turner fights prosecutors for right to discuss corruption case

St. John Barned-Smith
Turner fights prosecutors for right to discuss corruption case
City Councilor Chuck Turner (right) and defense attorney Barry Wilson (left) speak to members of the media outside of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009. Turner appeared in court Wednesday to fight a protective order that would restrict his ability to publicly discuss details of his case. Turner stands charged with accepting a bribe, lying to federal investigators about it and conspiring with former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson to extort money in exchange for political services. (Photo: Tony Irving)

City Councilor Chuck Turner appeared in federal court Wednesday to fight a protective order that would restrict his ability to discuss his case, the latest chapter in his battle against public corruption charges.

Turner, his lawyers and about 60 supporters packed into a courtroom at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse to ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman to deny prosecutors’ request for a protective order. If approved, the order would forbid the District 7 city councilor from publicly discussing anything contained in the thousands of pages of documents or the hundreds of recordings created during the course of the federal investigation into his actions.

Federal agents arrested Turner on Nov. 21, 2008, charging him with taking a $1,000 bribe in exchange for help getting a liquor license for a proposed nightclub and with lying to investigators about accepting the money. The following month, prosecutors indicted Turner and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson as co-conspirators in a scheme to extort money in exchange for political services.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil argued Wednesday that the protective order was necessary to keep the councilor from potentially leaking the names of individuals still under investigation, as well as the names of undercover agents who had been involved with the case prior to Turner’s arrest.

“It would be phenomenally prejudicial to those individuals,” McNeil said.

McNeil said that the order was not a gag order, however, because Turner could still discuss information relating to the case — if that information was found independently from the documents that were part of the discovery process.

Sorting through the different documents was also a problem for the prosecutor.

“There is not a practical way to segregate the [confidential and public] evidence,” McNeil said. He added that the state needed the order because it had become clear that Turner intends to represent himself in public rather than try his case in the courthouse, where McNeil said it belongs.

But Turner and his lawyers argued that the government’s methods of laying out the case were the reason they had to go directly to the public, both in search of a fair trial and to restore the councilor’s reputation.

“This has hurt his reputation and what he has worked for during his entire life,” Turner defense attorney Barry Wilson said while speaking with reporters and Turner supporters.

Turner said, “The only way to defend myself against the collusion of U.S. Attorney [Michael J.] Sullivan and every one of the newspapers and television stations and radio stations in this city is to speak the truth during this interim before we go to trial.”

The councilor also questioned the coverage his trial had received so far in the media.

“How can I convince the public that I have the right to a fair trial when the media believes I’m guilty and is saying to the public that I’m guilty?” Turner asked.

“All Mr. Turner is attempting to do is level the playing field,” Wilson added.

Continuing to use a , Turner compared the treatment of his trial to those of other public officials who had recently been indicted.

“If my situation had been treated like Mr. [Richard] Vitale’s was, I wouldn’t have to be out here proclaiming my innocence,” Turner said.

The councilor was referring to the December 2008 indictment of Vitale, former accountant and close friend of ex-House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, on charges that he violated various lobbying and campaign finance regulations. Several attempts by prosecutors to make the details of the charges against Vitale public have been blocked by judges.

Had his case been handled the same way, “You wouldn’t have the ability to find me guilty before I even had a trial,” Turner said.

Support for Turner was strong at the courthouse. One attendee, Randy Fenstermacher, said, “Chuck’s crime is being effective.”

Other backers questioned the motives of the prosecution.

“What’s going on here?” asked Dan Kontoff. “You have to look at the whole picture of this trial. What is this all about? What’s the motive of the government?

“The motive is obvious,” he added. “They’re just trying to get Chuck out of the seat, get Chuck out of the picture, because Chuck speaks up when no one else does.”