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Colorado judge refuses to gag press in sex abuse case

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  1. Prior Restraint
A federal judge in Denver has denied without public comment a request for a broad restraining order aimed at The…

A federal judge in Denver has denied without public comment a request for a broad restraining order aimed at The Pueblo Chieftain and reporter Robert Boczkiewicz. The order would have prohibited any news organization from publishing information obtained from a court hearing in a lawsuit related to the alleged sexual abuse of high school students.

Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel issued the order Wednesday in Marianists Province of the United States, Inc. v. ACE USA et al., a dispute between a Catholic group and an insurer about who must pay the costs related to sex abuse lawsuits.

Boczkiewicz, a freelancer who has been covering the case for The Chieftain, attended an open court session on April 15. Attorneys for the Marianists tried, but failed, to close the hearing. Later that day, they asked the court for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Boczkiewicz, The Chieftain, and any other news organization from publishing any information about the April 15 hearing. Boczkiewicz’s report on the hearing was published the next morning. 

Thomas B. Kelley and Ashley I. Kissinger of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, L.L.P. represented Boczkiewicz. Kissinger said she was gratified, but not surprised, that the court refused to issue such a broad prior restraint.

“An order granting the Marianists’ request would have doubly transgressed the First Amendment,” she said. “You cannot restrain the press in advance of publication absent a state interest of the highest order, which was not present here. And you cannot punish after the fact – much less restrain in advance – the publication of information disclosed in open court.”

Still, the case remains shrouded in secrecy, and even the reasons the court denied the request for a restraining order are unknown. Like many documents in the case, the court’s order is sealed.