Judge Bars Reporter From Publishing Legally Obtained Factual Info, Saying She Doesn't Care If It Violates First Amendment

from the wow dept

Found via the Citizen Media Law Project is a report about how The National Law Journal was barred from publishing information it had obtained legally in reporting about a dispute between a law firm and one of its former clients about fees. According to The National Law Journal, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff signed a temporary restraining order barring it from publishing the material the reporter had found out, specifically saying that The National Law Journal could not name the government agency that was involved in a “regulatory inquiry” into one of the participants in the lawsuit. When the NLJ reporter pointed to the First Amendment, the judge allegedly replied that she did not care:

“If I am throwing 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence on its head, so be it.” She said the court’s interest in maintaining the “integrity” of its docket trumped the First Amendment concern.

Not surprisingly, the Journal is looking to appeal this ruling, but it really makes you wonder what the judge was thinking.

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Comments on “Judge Bars Reporter From Publishing Legally Obtained Factual Info, Saying She Doesn't Care If It Violates First Amendment”

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Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well it is in DC the most "liberal" area of the nation

There’s the mating call of the mushy-middler again.

I see the problem here. Chances are you are new to the site, and are mistaking political agnosticism with some kind of veiled partisan play.

Most often I have found no love for left, right, or especially middle being espoused here, certainly not by Mike.

In other words: you probably won’t find many donkey vs. elephant vs. assaphant reindeer games going on here. There are plenty of “traditional politically oriented” sites out there. If it must be left or right, pick Fox or CNN and go have a blast. But please try not do confuse universal implication and suspicion with “moderates”.

Liquid (profile) says:

Its a temporary restraining order

The only thing that I find incredible about this is whole thing is how the judge spoke on her ruling. It seems that everyone else is looking at it that way as well. To be honest I don’t really see how this breaks the first amendment anyways in this case as it was only a temporary restraining order. Which means that it will be lifted at some point, and the reporter can print the story till their hearts content.

Obviously the story isn’t all there as to who requested the restraining order, and why. If those facts were known in this little blurb then no one would be acting acting all butt hurt over what the judge had said, and why she said it.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

Liquid would probably be more correct if the judge hadn’t gone out of her way to acknowledge that it’s likely she’s turning the constitution on its head and she just didn’t care. This violates her very reason for holding her position.

It would be as if, as a technology service provider, I told a customer, “Look, it might fly in the face of the contract we signed, but I’m going to light your server on fire because this guy over here told me to.”

Liquid (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

@Dark Helmet

I do agree with you that it was wrong, and I apologize if I did not word my first comment specifically to that degree. That was what I thought was incredible about her ruling in the first place. That a judge would in fact speak in such a manor as to blatantly she didn’t give a $*!7 about first amendment rights. To me, and most certainly all of you see that as an ethical issue as it clearly shows in this case that she didn’t rule in an unbiased manor. At least that is how I took it on how she worded her reasoning for blocking the reporter on his comment about his first amendment right.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Its a temporary restraining order

Fair enough, and actually I see how my logic was flawed. I assumed that because this woman was a judge, her stating that she was probably going against the Constitution meant that was likely the case.

Now that I think it through, I can see that this judgey woman is a complete and utter knob, so my assumption may well be incorrect….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

First, Judge Bartnoff likely ruled this way because the TRO can be undone, but if she allowed the information to be published, that act could not be undone. The case can then be decided on the merits without the outcome becoming moot.

Second, her statement regarding the first amendment definitely sounds bad. However, I’ve heard judges say similar crazy-sounding things, often in response to the attorney being a total dick. It would be interesting to hear what lead up to her statement.

She did not say it was “likely” that the TRO violates the first amendment – not sure how anyone read that into her statement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Its a temporary restraining order

Because the attorney said, “But your honor, this flies in the face of 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence!” Obviously we don’t really know.

I just don’t see how everyone knows what she was thinking based on one sentence recited by the party she ruled against.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Its a temporary restraining order

“Because the attorney said, “But your honor, this flies in the face of 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence!” Obviously we don’t really know.”

Well, the theory is that, being a judge, this woman…you know…knows the law. So if the attorney said that, why wouldn’t her immediate response be something along the lines of “No it doesn’t, you cock sandwich! Stop being stupid or I’ll cram my gavel into your urethra sideways!”?

Unless, of course, said attorney was likely correct….

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

“…”If I am throwing 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence on its head, so be it.”….”

I found the ruling to not be all that exceptional. Basically a gag order until the trial was over – at least that’s how I interpreted it.

While her response was probably dis-tasteful, I found it more angry/sarcastic than literal.

I can envision on of the lawyers objecting and become borderline argumentative and the judge coming back and basically saying “stuff it – that’s my ruling – now sit down and shut up”.

Of course I’m taking it out of context – but then it’s brought to us out of context.


Dementia (profile) says:

Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

Duh! Techdirt reports nothing. Mike posts things he finds worthy of discussion and we discuss. Are you new here, or just another anonymous cowards who thinks his $.02 is really worth that much? And before anyone says anything else, I know how much my opinion is worth, which means it only has value for me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

My opinion is no more valuable than yours or Mike’s, never said it was.

Also, I really hate to argue symantics but here is an excert of the definition of ‘report’ from dictionary.com:

1. an account or statement describing in detail an event, situation, or the like, usually as the result of observation, inquiry, etc.: a report on the peace conference; a Medical report on the patient.
2. a statement or announcement.
3. a widely circulated statement or item of news; rumor; gossip.
4. an account of a speech, debate, meeting, etc., esp. as taken down for publication.

Like I said, techdirt reports Mike’s opinion, call it reporting, call it posting, call it blogging, whatever, same thing. Why is it a problem for you if I happen to agree with Liquid?

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Its a temporary restraining order

TRO can be made permanent, but that is not the is issue at hand. A judge halted a legally obtained story from being published, and even mentioned her “throwing 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence on its head, so be it.” There is no way around the fact that this was not handled as it should have been.

Liquid (profile) says:

Re: Re: Its a temporary restraining order

Yes the TRO can be made permanent after the fact yes, but that would have go to another hearing or trial depending on who serious it was. I really do not see something of this nature becoming permanent as it would set a whole new precedent on this issue. More companies would start putting restraining orders on all news media to keep them from reporting on them whether it is in a good light or bad.

I don’t think a judge is ready, and willing to go that extra 1000 miles to set such a precedent. Since such a think would kill the First Amendment completely.

In New Hampshire says:

Google yields FDA

Could the association they can’t name be the FDA? Looking up POM Wonderful, yields a warning letter to POM Wonderful on the first google results page: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm202785.htm.
Or, are they being investigated by more than one agency? Or, is the law firm being investigated as well?

pdog1978 says:

Re: First Amendment

Any first year law student would realize that you are not correct, The fact that we have amendments shows that we have things that trump the original constitution. Otherwise it could not be amended.

Of course it has been years since I studied government but I believe thats something the congress can do if enough of them can agree on it of course.

cybernia (profile) says:

More to the story...

After a little googling I found that this case isn’t as cut and dry as it appears. Apparently what is at issue here is that while combing through legally obtained documents, the Law Journal came across some documents that were ordered sealed by the judge. Through an error, they weren’t. Although I disagree with the ruling, I understand what the judge is talking about.

“The judge said the First Amendment analysis is “very different” when it comes to information the court had ordered sealed.”


Gwiz says:

Re: Re:

“And that is why 180 year old bitch judges don’t have their place anymore in the legal system. Get some young people in there that know how to operate a micro-wave and are not stuck in the pre-industrial boom era. As long as old retards run the country, expect stupid judges to be appointed.”

Wow. Reading your comment makes me think you must be all of about 13 years old yourself.

I certainly would rather have someone with life experiences and wisdom that comes with age being a judge than some ignorant punk like yourself any day.

cybernia (profile) says:

Re: pay attention

Sometimes I think I’m invisible on this forum. I rarely post but when I do, I try to look beyond the knee jerk reactions. Go back and look at my post with the subject line “More to the Story.” Nobody responded to it because you’re all so involved in your own dogma to see anything that might have gray areas.

I disagree with the decision but it is a lot more complicated than Mike let’s on. And everyone seems to just go off without trying to find out what the real story is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: pay attention

A post at 45 (mine) mirrors your criticism of many, if not the majority, of comments made about this article.

It is in my experience a rare event for a judge to leave the “legal reservation” and strike off in his or her own direction without good reason. Almost invariably such a seeming departure arises because of the facts presented to the court.

Facts count, unless, of course, one finds that the facts do not neatly cabin neatly into the outcome they desire. It is disappointing that so many who comment here appear to follow this intellectually dishonest course.

Anonymous Coward says:

So how does “If I am throwing 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence on its head, so be it.” She said the court’s interest in maintaining the “integrity” of its docket trumped the First Amendment concern. ” translate as the Judge ignoring the consititution? Is the constitution 80 years old? I thought it was older.

Judges can go against presidence and they do it all the time. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have to worry about abortion being outlawed (then again, I don’t really care about that either)

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