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Watkins admits that April press conference violated gag order in Greitens trial

Attorney Al Watkins, pictured here walking out of court on May 1, 2018 with his then-attorney Chuck Hatfield, has admitted he violated a gag order in the Eric Greitens case.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Attorney Al Watkins, pictured here walking out of court on May 1, 2018 with his then-attorney Chuck Hatfield, has admitted he violated a gag order in the Eric Greitens case.

An attorney who represented the ex-husband of the woman at the center of the Eric Greitens trial has admitted that he violated a court order that forbid attorneys in the case from talking about it to reporters.

Al Watkins on Friday apologized to Judge Rex Burlison. He will have to make 100 hours of presentations to outside groups on the importance of complying with court orders and how not doing so can harm the justice system.

“I am not a wilting flower,” Watkins said after a brief hearing in Burlison’s courtroom. “I’m a zealous advocate for my client no matter what the case will be. I will continue to be a zealous advocate, but I will do so with a really heightened degree of appreciation for and sensitivity to the integrity of our judicial system and the importance of maintaining the integrity of orders of the court.”

The agreement reached between Watkins and a special prosecutor appointed by the court does not contain an admission of contempt, which requires a knowing violation of a court order. Watkins said he was never notified of Burlison’s April 10 gag order.

Burlison had moved to find Watkins in contempt for a press briefing the attorney held after an April 23 hearing in the Greitens case. During that hearing, members of Greitens’ legal team revealed that Watkins had accepted $50,000 from an undisclosed source to represent his client, the ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had had an affair and who accused Greitens of taking and distributing a semi-nude photo of her without her consent.

Watkins later confirmed to reporters on the courthouse steps that he had received a total of $100,000 from this source. He later revealed that Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn delivered the money to him but said he did not know where Faughn had gotten the money. Faughn has said it was his own money.

In Burlison’s view, the impromptu press conference was in direct violation of that gag order, which prohibited “all parties, attorneys, endorsed witnesses and their attorneys” from “making any public statements outside the courtroom that could interfere with a fair trial or prejudice either the State or the defendant.” In June, after the trial had ended, Burlison demanded that Watkins show him why he should not be found in contempt.

Watkins said he was never served with the gag order and said he wasn’t aware of it despite extensive media reporting on the issue.

“But in the scope of this case, and this motion, it doesn’t matter,” Watkins said. “Regardless of whether I knew about that order of the court, my responses, my taking of questioning, the way I did it, when I did it, where I did it, did give rise to the risk of an appearance of disrespect for the court and did give rise to the potential for tainting the integrity of a system set up to protect the rights of the criminally accused.”

Watkins has a year to complete the 100 hours of presentations and must sign a sworn statement saying he has done so. He could face further punishment if he fails to comply.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.