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Judge overseeing Astroworld cases issues gagging order restricting what plaintiffs and attorneys can say

By | Published on Thursday 24 February 2022


The judge who is now overseeing the hundreds of lawsuits filed in relation to last year’s Astroworld tragedy has issued what has been described as a “sweeping gag order” which will restrict what plaintiffs and their lawyers can say in public as the cases go through the motions.

Ten people died and hundreds more were injured when a crowd surge occurred during Travis Scott’s headline set on 5 Nov 2021 at the Houston-based festival he founded. As a criminal investigation got underway to ascertain if decisions made by event organisers before or during the festival contributed to the crowd surge, hundreds of those affected by the incident filed lawsuits, including the families of those who died.

Various defendants are named in the lawsuits – including venue NRG Park and Apple Music, which was livestreaming the show – though Scott himself and the festival’s promoters – Live Nation and its Scoremore subsidiary – are the main targets of the litigation.

Earlier this month it was confirmed that 387 lawsuits relating to Astroworld would be consolidated, so to make it easier to manage the legal action. It was then subsequently announced that judge Kristen Hawkins would oversee the proceedings.

According to ABC13 in Houston, she issued an order last week restricting what plaintiffs and lawyers can say about the case. Her office told the broadcaster that it was the judge herself who decided such an order was required, which is to say, she was not responding to a request from either plaintiffs or defendants. The judge feels that such restrictions are required to ensure a fair trial should the litigation end in court before a jury.

Hawkins’ order stated: “The court finds that the willingness of attorneys to give interviews and independently post case events to social media will only to serve to increase the volume of pre-trial and in-trial publicity. The court further finds that an order restricting extra-judicial commentary by counsel for the parties is necessary to preserve all parties’ right to a fair trial by an impartial jury”.

A Houston-based criminal lawyer not involved in any Astroworld cases, Stan Schneider, told ABC13 that it was unusual for a judge to issue an order like this in a civil case, not least because civil cases often don’t ultimately make it to trial.

“It’s rare that a judge on their own will issue a gag order on the case”, he told the broadcaster. “It’s rare they will take the initiative and say this is how we will limit publicity”. He added that “in a civil case, very few of them go to trial”, which generally means that people involved in a case talking about the proceedings doesn’t “have the same implications that a criminal case would have”.

However, Kenneth Williams, a law professor at South Texas College, told ABC13 that – while what Schneider says is true – courts nevertheless have the power to restrict what those involved in civil cases can say in public. He said: “Generally, the parties have a right to speak, that includes the litigants – but, the court also can balance that with the need to provide a fair trial to both parties”.