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Judge grants protective order in Rushdie case

Photo by Eric Tichy Hadi Matar is pictured Wednesday in Chautauqua County Court.

MAYVILLE — The lawyers representing a New Jersey man accused of stabbing famed author Salman Rushdie last month at Chautauqua Institution will be provided the names and contact information of potential witnesses.

But that information cannot be shared with their client, Hadi Matar, until just prior to trial.

Following a closed hearing Wednesday, Chautauqua County Court Judge David Foley granted a protective order at the request of District Attorney Jason Schmidt. The DA had sought to shield the names and contact information of potential witnesses due to concerns over their safety following the Aug. 12 attack at Chautauqua. Schmidt has alluded to a fatwa that was issued on Rushdie’s life for a book he wrote in 1988, “The Satanic Verses.”

Matar’s attorney, Public Defender Ned Barone, opposed the protective order and has stated multiple times that prosecutors have failed to show that potential witnesses face a threat.

Barone, though not Matar, was inside the courtroom during Wednesday’s hearing, which lasted about a half hour. Afterward, and with Matar present, Foley granted Schmidt’s request for the protective order.

“I do find that Mr. Schmidt has made a good cause showing of a risk of potential threats or intimidation,” Foley said.

“I am mindful of the fact that Mr. Matar does need to participate and to be able to discuss matters with Mr. Barone and the defense team regarding the discoverable material.”

Foley said prosecutors will have to provide the contact information on “factual witnesses” to the defense team. Those include “live witnesses to the incident, those individuals who rendered aid to Mr. Rushdie, rendered aid to Mr. (Henry) Reese, assisted in subduing Mr. Matar, medically treated Mr. Rushdie, medically treated Mr. Reese, provided hospital transport services for Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Reese, and to individuals who observed Mr. Matar prior to and immediately following the incident, excluding any law enforcement officers who responded to the scene.”

While Barone and his defense team will be provided the information shortly, Foley said it cannot be shared with Matar until just prior to the trial. Schmidt will have to turn over redacted information that Matar can review.

On Wednesday, Foley also granted Schmidt an extension to comply with the state’s discovery rules regarding evidence. The DA previously said his office was going through more than 30,000 pieces of evidence related to the case.

Foley said Schmidt had shown good cause “based upon the volume of the discoverable material” to grant his motion. He said the DA had 60 days from Wednesday to turn over the material.

Schmidt told reporters he was happy with Foley’s rulings on the protective order and the extension for discovery. “It’s what we anticipated,” said Schmidt, who said a trial date may be more than a year or a year and a half away due to all the evidence and the time both sides will take to go through it.

Asked if he viewed Wednesday’s hearing as successful, the DA responded, “I don’t want to look at it as successful, but it kind of puts us on track here. … We’re now going to be engaged in the long slog that’s ahead of us of making all the appropriate disclosures.”

Barone, meanwhile, said he wasn’t disappointed by Foley’s ruling on the protective order or viewed it as a setback. However, he told reporters he planned to file an immediate appeal on the ruling with the state’s Appellate Division.

“Our concern always is not having the opportunity to include the accused, our client, in our trial preparation,” Barone said. “I think it’s important that the accused always has that opportunity.”

Matar, a resident of Fairview, N.J., is accused of using a knife to attack Rushdie as he was in a chair on stage at Chautauqua Institution. The author was waiting to be introduced for a discussion of protections for writers in exile and freedom of expression.

In the attack, Rushdie suffered wounds to his neck, chest, stomach, hand and right eye. He was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Erie, Pa.

Reese, the cofounder of Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, was with Rushdie on the stage and suffered a gash to his forehead, bruises and other minor injuries.

Since his arrest, Matar has been held without bail in Chautauqua County Jail. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault.

The attack and subsequent arrest of Matar have drawn worldwide attention.

As in past court appearances, Matar on Wednesday wore routine prison garb consisting of a black and white colored jump suit and a white cloth face mask. He had his hands cuffed in front of him while in court.

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