AUGUSTA — A judge has ordered attorneys, court personnel, potential witnesses and law enforcement officers to refrain from commenting on the criminal case of Eric L. Bard, 24, of Sidney, who was indicted on charges of raping a 4-year-old girl he was babysitting and recording it.

The gag order, known officially as a protective order, was issued Thursday by Justice Donald H. Marden following a hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Bard has been held in lieu of $100,000 bail since his arrest in late July 2012 on an indictment charging him with 11 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, seven counts of gross sexual assault, two counts of unlawful sexual contact and one count of assault.

The charges all name the same child as victim and say the offenses occurred between Dec. 1, 2011, and April 30, 2012, in Augusta. An affidavit in the case says the girl’s mother had him babysit her daughter many times in her Augusta apartment.

A written gag order is rarely issued at the state court level. Justice Nancy Mills last year issued one in the prostitution trial of Mark Strong in Cumberland County after the case received national and international attention. Strong was convicted of 13 misdemeanor charges following allegations that he and Alexis Wright worked together on a prostitution operation from Wright’s Zumba studio in Kennebunk. Strong was convicted of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution.

The gag order in the Bard case follows a series of hearings at which Bard’s attorneys, Ronald Bourget and Gina Yamartino, have sought to get Bard freed on bail.

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They had made arrangements for him to live at his mother’s home and receive services from community providers, and it appeared the judge would approve it over the prosecutor’s objections.

However, no bail order was signed, and Bard apparently remains behind bars.

“The state vehemently objects to someone facing a class A sexual assault against a child being on bail,” District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said prior to the order being issued. Eighteen of the 21 charges against Bard are in the class A category, which carry maximum penalties of 30 years. Maloney said the state is prepared to go to trial in the case.

Bard has been held at the Kennebec County jail and also at Riverview Psychiatric Center while undergoing a series of competency evaluations. At a previous hearing in the same court, Marden found that Bard was competent to proceed to trial, however, he also said that the finding “does not address issues of criminal responsibility or abnormal condition of mind.”

The judge’s gag order says “unless there is a restraint placed on the trial participants, there is a reasonable likelihood that extrajudicial commentary will prejudice a fair trial, that unrestricted statements by the participants in trial will only serve to increase the volume of pretrial publicity, and such pretrial publicity would so taint the jury veneer as to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to empanel a fair and impartial jury.”

The order specifically says, “No person, including parties; lawyers; potential witnesses; law enforcement officers; and employees, representatives, or agents of the parties shall make any statements to any members of any television; radio; newspaper; magazine; Internet (including, but not limited to bloggers); or other media organizations about this case, other than matters of public record, that could interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice defendant, the government, or the administration of justice.”

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The order does not prevent the people “from discussing without elaboration or any kind of characterization, the general nature of the allegations or defenses, information contained in the public record, scheduling information, any decision or order by the court that is a matter of public record and the contents or substance of any motion filed in the case, to the extent the motion is a matter of public record.”

Bard, who is 4-foot-10, keeps his head down and his face hidden with his long hair while he is in court. He is charged with gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual conduct for allegedly compelling the child to engage in sexually explicit conduct so he could photograph and video it. Pleas of not guilty were entered on April 14.

The Maine State Computer Crimes Unit reported finding evidence on Bard’s computer and cellphone of assaults on the girl. Investigators focused on Bard after a woman told police about an online ad from a person interested in giving children baths, state police Detective Christopher Tremblay wrote in an affidavit.

When bail was anticipated, conditions would have prohibited Bard from having contact with the victim or her family and from using devices that can access the Internet. He was also to be banned from being in any location where children congregate.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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