Judge lifts prior restraint in Georgia

Tom Isler | Prior Restraints | News | November 10, 2014

A superior court judge in Georgia reversed himself on Monday and lifted an order he had entered last week enjoining the media from broadcasting or publishing a story about witness intimidation in the ongoing criminal corruption trial about educators cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta public schools.

Last Friday, Judge Jerry Baxter signed an order preventing the media from reporting a story that a witness for the prosecution had received an anonymous threatening voice mail for testifying against a former Atlanta public school superintendent. The county district attorney sought the order because, he argued, the news report might have a chilling effect on future witnesses or the jury.

On Monday, an apologetic Judge Baxter vacated the order before lawyers for the media had a chance to make their arguments, explaining that he had been trying “to give everybody a fair trial,” but he realized he had been wrong to issue the initial order, according to news reports.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, FOX5 television put the story together last week. Although the AJC confirmed the story, the paper “decided to withhold publication of the story” until after Monday’s hearing.

While the judge’s ruling was welcome to attorney Cynthia Counts, who represented FOX5, she told the news station that the judge’s injunction order violated “the most fundamental right of the press; that is, the right to report on significant public concern.” She added that “for the entire weekend, the public was deprived of the right to know about a witness who was threated in the Atlanta Public Schools corruption trial.”