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Attorney cleared in gag order case

Published Sep. 10, 2005

(ran PC edition)

After two years, an appeals court on Friday cleared Tampa attorney James Kramer of violating a judge's gag order in one of the cases swirling around Kristina Gaime, the Land O'Lakes woman accused of killing one of her sons.

Kramer represents Stephen Rotell in a Hillsborough County family court. He handles issues surrounding custody and care of the surviving son Rotell and Gaime had together.

Gaime is awaiting trial in Pasco County, charged with the April 1999 first-degree murder of her 6-year-old son Mathew Rotell, and the attempted murder of her other son, Adam Rotell, who was 8 at the time.

Investigators say she drugged both boys, loaded them into her minivan in the garage at their Land O'Lakes home, climbed inside with them, then directed the van's exhaust into the passenger cabin.

In the early days of the investigation, amid law enforcement investigations and intense media scrutiny, Kramer was representing Rotell in a Tampa family court. Circuit Judge Vivian Maye ordered attorneys in the case to keep mum.

But after Gaime's arrest, Kramer said he tried to shield Rotell from news outlets by acting as a spokesman. He said he was careful to only address matters outside the scope of the family court gag order.

Maye found him guilty of willful contempt and fined him $100 for each word printed in newspapers, up to $2,000.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal on Friday overturned the fine and the conviction.

"The trial court erred in finding Kramer in contempt," the findings state. "A review of Kramer's statements supports his position that they concerned the pending criminal case about which he was not prohibited to speak. . . . Kramer was trying to diffuse the media attention surrounding his client and his client's surviving minor child."

Even if he had done something wrong, the fine was four times too high, the appeal court ruled.

Kramer said he was pleased with the finding. He said he was always more concerned about his record and reputation than the money.

He never had to pay the money; the fine was stayed pending a ruling from the higher court. But after practicing 17 years with no complaints or censures, the contempt charge bothered him, Kramer said.

"It's something that's been lurking in the back of my mind for two years," he said.