ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Prosecutors and defense attorneys will need the court's permission before they talk to reporters about evidence in the case of an ex-Secret Service charged with trying to kidnap a former judge, a South Carolina judge ruled Thursday.
Circuit Judge Lawton McIntosh issued the ruling after prosecutors asked for a gag order in James Bartee's attempted kidnapping case. Bartee was arrested during a court hearing last May while he was running for Oconee County sheriff. His lawyer has said local authorities and state police were conspiring to knock him out of the race.
Prosecutor Chrissy Adams was in court taking the unusual step of asking for a gag order. She sought it after Bartee's lawyer suggested a recording on which investigators Bartee can be heard setting up the kidnapping might have been tampered with. It's usually defense attorneys who ask for the orders barring people involved in the case from speaking to reporters outside of court hearings.
Adams denied tampering with evidence and said the gag order is needed because defense attorney Jake Moore's statements could sway potential jurors in the case, which has not been scheduled for trial.
McIntosh handed copies of the rules of professional conduct to Adams and Moore at Thursday's hearing and asked them to read them. He then issued his ruling, requiring Adams, Moore and anyone else involved in the case including Bartee and expert witnesses to ask the court for permission when they want to talk to reporters. McIntosh said a judge would then set up a hearing so the request could be made with both sides present to respond.
"Each party is responding to alleged leaking of information to the press by the other side. I am stopping that now," McIntosh said.
Bartee was the outsider in a four-way race for the Republican nomination for the open sheriff's job in 2012 in Oconee County. His campaign website showed photos of him serving on the presidential protection details for Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He campaigned to get rid of corruption in the sheriff's office and has said his arrest was orchestrated to knock him from the race and protect crooked law officers. Bartee abandoned his campaign after his arrest.
Authorities said Bartee was worried a hearing would reveal that he did not have the qualifications to be sheriff and paid an informant $185 to kidnap a former judge that was going to testify against Bartee. The kidnapping didn't take place, and Bartee was arrested during the hearing.
The main evidence against Bartee appears to be an audio recording made by the informant. Moore said the recording contains gaps that "happen to take place at very inopportune times."
Moore also said the original copy of the digital recording has been destroyed and a copy placed on a State Law Enforcement Division computer has also disappeared. He has filed a motion asking the charge against Bartee be dropped.