A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request by the accused killer of missing Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart to place a gag order on the Smart family’s civil attorney.
A request was filed by Paul Flores’ civil attorney July 1 in the long-stalled wrongful death lawsuit brought against Flores by Smart’s parents in 1996, months after their daughter was last seen walking on campus with Flores following a Memorial Day weekend party.
The judge in the criminal case against Paul Flores and his father Ruben placed a protective order — also known as a gag order — on parties in that case prohibiting them from making public statements about the case outside of court proceedings.
But that order doesn’t apply to the Smart family’s two civil lawsuits against Paul and Ruben Flores, who the family also accuses of causing emotional distress.
Though Flores’ request to Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett is under seal and cannot be viewed in public court records, a response filed by Arroyo Grande attorney Jim Murphy on Tuesday shows that Flores’ attorney, James Lemieux, asked Garrett to apply the existing protective order in the criminal proceedings to the civil case as well.
Failing that, Flores sought an expedited hearing to argue for the order.
If successful, the order would have prevented Murphy — who’s been one of the most vocal advocates for the Smart family for 25 years — from speaking to the media, and records of court proceedings could have been sealed.
But Garrett rejected the motion, noting that the civil case has been suspended since 2003 because Murphy has been unable to obtain any records of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation while it remains ongoing.
Neither Lemieux nor Murphy, who noted in his opposition filing that he’s on vacation, could immediately be reached for comment late Wednesday.
In his response to the requested gag order, Murphy argued that the stay order in the stalled civil case remains in effect and that Flores’ request violates that order.
“(My) office, key staff personnel at my office and I have been active in developing evidence against Paul and Ruben Flores since late 1996,” Murphy wrote to Garrett. “We have interviewed dozens of potential witnesses and followed up on thousands of tips from the community.”
“The public involvement of my firm, specifically my interaction with local, regional, and national media has led directly to the development of significant evidence against both criminal defendants,” he added.
Murphy told The Tribune in April that his “strategy as the family’s attorney was to keep the pressure on these people until we got ‘em.”
A progress hearing in the civil case is scheduled for July 28.
Paul Flores faces 25 years to life if convicted of murder
San Pedro resident Paul Flores, 44, is charged with murdering Kristin Smart. He appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Tuesday via Zoom from San Luis Obispo County Jail.
His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores of Arroyo Grande, is accused of helping his son hide Smart’s remains. He was released from County Jail on April 22, hours after van Rooyen significantly lowered his bail because he is not a flight risk or a risk to public safety.
Paul Flores and his father pleaded not guilty at their arraignment April 19, when van Rooyen ordered Paul Flores be held without bail.
Paul and Ruben Flores were arrested April 13 in San Pedro and Arroyo Grande, respectively, and the county District Attorney’s Office announced the criminal charges the following day.
District Attorney Dan Dow said at a news conference that Paul Flores committed the murder during the commission of a rape or attempted rape of Smart.
Paul Flores was the last person seen with the then-19-year-old Smart before her disappearance in 1996. Her body has never been found, although investigators believe it was buried at Ruben Flores’ Arroyo Grande home and “recently” moved, according to court documents.
Paul Flores faces a sentence of 25 years to life if convicted of first-degree murder.
Ruben Flores faces a maximum of three years if convicted of the accessory charge, though it is not clear if that sentence would be served in County Jail or state prison.
Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen, the judge in the criminal case, has issued a gag order preventing parties involved — including Dow and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson — from making any public statements regarding the proceedings outside the courtroom.
Both father and son are due back in court for a pre-preliminary hearing July 12 before another hearing regarding various motions July 14.
A 12-day preliminary hearing where testimony will be given is scheduled to begin July 20.