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RCFP supports journalist’s fight against unconstitutional prior restraint

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  1. Prior Restraint

Updates: During a hearing on May 24, 2023, a Los Angeles judge rejected the city’s attempt to reclaim the records. However, in a ruling on Aug. 2, 2023, a California Superior Court judge denied motions to dismiss the city’s lawsuit filed by journalist Ben Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, allowing the city to move forward with its suit.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations are urging a California court to deny the city of Los Angeles’s attempt to force a local journalist and community advocacy group to return and/or destroy lawfully obtained police records.

In September 2022, as part of a settlement agreement in a public records lawsuit, the city of Los Angeles provided journalist Ben Camacho with information about thousands of Los Angeles Police Department officers, including photograph headshots. Camacho then shared the records with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a community advocacy organization, which published the records online.

The city sued both Camacho and the coalition to reclaim headshots and other records concerning undercover police officers that it said were mistakenly given to the reporter.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court on May 17, 2023, Reporters Committee attorneys argue that the city’s request is an unconstitutional prior restraint.

“An order of the kind the City seeks here would set a dangerous precedent that will undermine the news media’s ability to freely disseminate lawfully obtained information to the public,” the Reporters Committee’s letter states. “Granting the City’s request would encourage future lawsuits of this kind, chilling the dissemination of important information in records obtained through public records requests, and undercutting the vital role of journalists in our society.”

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