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Kratovil v. City of New Brunswick

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  1. Prior Restraint

Court: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Date Filed: Dec. 19, 2023

Background: While speaking at a New Brunswick City Council meeting in May 2023, New Brunswick Today journalist Charles Kratovil mentioned that Anthony Caputo, the city’s director of police, lives two hours away from the community he serves. Kratovil, whose newspaper has reported extensively on Caputo and the police department, identified the street in Cape May, New Jersey, where the police director lives, but not the exact address. He also provided the council members copies of Caputo’s voter file, which included the exact address and which Kratovil had obtained in response to a public records request.

Nearly two weeks later, the New Brunswick Police Department sent Kratovil a cease-and-desist letter warning him that the public announcement of Caputo’s address was a violation of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, known as “Daniel’s Law,” which prohibits the disclosure of the home addresses of certain public officials and imposes possible criminal and civil penalties. The letter warned Kratovil against further publication.

In July 2023, Kratovil filed a lawsuit against the city of New Brunswick and Caputo, challenging the constitutionality of applying Daniel’s Law to a journalist. The trial court agreed with Kratovil that the issue of the police director’s residency was a matter of public concern, but it held that Kratovil did not need to publish the address in order to report on that issue. On that basis, the trial court dismissed the complaint, upholding the constitutionality of the law as applied to Kratovil.

Kratovil appealed the trial court’s dismissal order that, in effect, barred him from reporting on Caputo’s address. He argued that penalizing him for the publication of truthful information on a matter of public concern was unconstitutional. While the appeal was pending, the state of New Jersey declined to intervene in the lawsuit, stating in a letter to the court that while it had a strong interest in defending the constitutionality of Daniel’s Law generally, it did not take a position in this as-applied challenge by a journalist.

Our Position: The appeals court should reverse the trial court’s ruling and direct it to prohibit the city of New Brunswick from seeking to enforce Daniel’s Law against Kratovil for his reporting.

  • Daniel’s Law cannot constitutionally be applied either to restrain Kratovil from publishing Caputo’s address or to punish him for doing so. The trial court order is a prior restraint that cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny.
  • The trial court’s application of Daniel’s Law to Kratovil, if not reversed, will stifle journalism in the public interest.
  • The trial court inserted itself in the role of super-editor. Its application of Daniel’s Law to prohibit a journalist from reporting particular true facts infringes on the constitutionally protected exercise of editorial discretion by the independent press.

Quote: “The constitutionally protected right of journalists to gather and publish newsworthy information is not merely symbolic; it is vital to the press’s ability to inform the public. Without access to, or the freedom to publish, information that may fall within the reach of Daniel’s Law, many important news stories simply will not be told — to the detriment of the public.”

Related: Before it became law, Reporters Committee Staff Attorney Grayson Clary explained the First Amendment concerns surrounding a federal bill that sought to protect the personal information of federal judges or their families’ online. And in July 2023, the Reporters Committee coordinated a letter urging the U.S. Senate to oppose a proposed amendment to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act that would make it possible for federal lawmakers to scrub information about them and their families from the internet.

Update: On April 26, 2024, the appeals court affirmed the ruling of the trial court, concluding that Daniel’s Law, as applied to Kratovil, “does not violate his constitutional rights of free speech and free press.”

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