Gag orders

In re Murphy-Brown

August 6, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 11 media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit in In re Murphy-Brown. The brief supports Murphy-Brown's mandamus petition to vacate a gag order issued by the district court in 26 related nuisance lawsuits against hog farms run by Murphy-Brown. The district court stated that the gag order will stay in effect for the duration of these 26 cases--which are expected to last several years--and applies to hundreds of parties, counsel, court personnel, and even "potential" witnesses, who have not yet been identified or notified.  The brief argues that this broad gag order will chill newsgathering about these cases, which are of significant public concern; that it is an unconstitutional prior restraint; and that it is particularly offensive to the First Amendment in the civil context where courts are less likely to uphold gag orders.


Las Vegas Review-Journal and Associated Press v. Eighth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada

February 14, 2018

A Nevada district court judge ordered the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Associated Press to refrain from reporting on and to destroy copies of an anonymized autopsy report obtained through a public records request. The news outlets filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus in the Nevada Supreme Court to dissolve the prior restraint, and the Reporters Committee, along with the Nevada Press Association, filed a proposed amicus brief in support of that petition. The brief explains the significant news value in reporting on anonymized autopsy reports and the dangerous nature of the district court's gag order, which erroneously elevates purported privacy concerns over long-established First Amendment protections. The brief also focuses on the implications of the gag order for journalists and other members of the public who request records under the Nevada Public Records Act.


In re Clendennen (Waco gag order)

July 24, 2015

Prosecutors sought a broad gag order against Matthew Clendennen, one of more than 100 motorcycle riders arrested after a May shootout outside a restaurant in Waco, Texas, in which 9 people were killed and 18 injured. The court granted an order preventing all attorneys, their staff, law enforcement, and witnesses who have given statements to law enforcement from talking to the media about Clendennen's case. Clendennen appealed, and an amicus coalition led by the Reporters Committee argued that the gag order violated both the First Amendment and the Texas constitution because it was overbroad and vague. The trial court had made no findings that the news coverage of the incident was inflammatory or prejudicial, focusing instead on the quantity of news coverage.

Fourth Circuit invalidates gag order and sealing order in Blankenship criminal trial

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | March 5, 2015
March 5, 2015

A federal appeals court today invalidated a gag order and sealing order that had been entered in the criminal case against Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Co., who faces charges stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 that killed 29 people.

The ruling is a victory for the media, which had been unable to access many court filings in the case and had been unable to discuss the substance of the charges with lawyers, parties, victims, victims’ family members, and others, who were subject to a broad gag order.

Media groups appeal gag and sealing orders in Blankenship mining case

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | February 25, 2015
February 25, 2015

Media organizations are fighting to overturn a gag order and sealing order entered in connection with the criminal trial of Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy. The matter is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Grand jury secrecy comes at a cost

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | January 13, 2015
January 13, 2015

Two new lawsuits are challenging the continued secrecy of the grand jury investigations related to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. The suits demonstrate just how secret the information gathered by a grand jury is, while also making a compelling case for the public interest in greater access.

Media organizations asks judge to dismiss gag order imposed by prosecutors

Lilly Chapa | Secret Courts | News | April 25, 2013
April 25, 2013

Two Georgia media organizations are asking a judge to dismiss an unusual gag order placed on 35 Atlanta Public School employees charged with altering standardized tests in a widespread cheating scandal.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News (WSB-TV) filed a joint motion to lift the gag orders on those charged in the cheating scandal. District Attorney Paul Howard agreed to lower the defendants’ bail bond amounts if the defendants agreed not to talk to reporters.

University of Colorado releases some Holmes records

Lilly Chapa | Freedom of Information | News | November 28, 2012
November 28, 2012

Despite a judge recently modifying a gag order in the case of alleged theater shooter James Holmes, journalists are having a difficult time accessing records to report on the high-profile case.

“We get lots of tiny bits and pieces and have to paste these parts together to make sense out of what seems like a senseless mass shooting,” Denver reporter Rick Sallinger said.

Fla. judge denies gag order in Zimmerman case

Lilly Chapa | Secret Courts | News | October 31, 2012
October 31, 2012

A Florida judge on Monday denied a proposed gag order that would muzzle all attorneys and law enforcement officers involved in the prosecution of George Zimmerman.

Media organizations challenge gag order in Zimmerman case

Lilly Chapa | Secret Courts | News | October 24, 2012
October 24, 2012

More than a dozen news media organizations are opposing a proposed gag order in the George Zimmerman prosecution that would silence all attorneys involved.