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Court rescinds its own prior restraint against the AP

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         TEXAS         Prior Restraints         Apr 14, 2000    

Court rescinds its own prior restraint against the AP

  • After hearing arguments from both sides, a judge decided not to continue to enforce a prior restraint keeping the Associated Press from releasing information it had obtained through an open records request.

A state court trial judge lifted a ten-day-old prior restraint against The Associated Press that had barring it from publishing information obtained from a state agency under the state’s open records act.

Austin District Court Judge Margaret Cooper lifted a temporary order that restrained publication pending a hearing, and refused to enjoin the wire service after the hearing, denying the request of Permian Sea Shrimp and Seafood, whose loan records had been released, and its bank. Cooper’s decision came after she heard testimony on April 13 and heard arguments from counsel on April 14.

The information at issue concerns a Texas agricultural loan program and was obtained by an AP reporter from the agriculture department in response to a request filed under the Texas Public Information Act. Cooper entered the temporary injunction on April 4 and scheduled a hearing for April 13 at which she said that she would determine whether the information was properly released by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court letter with the court that argued that “even if the information had been obtained illegally or wrongfully released, this Court cannot sit as a public censor — even on a temporary basis — if it wants to act in accordance with the U.S. and Texas constitutions.”

Permian and its bank had argued to Cooper that the information obtained by the AP included confidential trade secret material that the state agency should not have distributed to the news service. The information obtained from the state agency included information supporting the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority Board’s approval of a loan guarantee for Permian under a state loan guarantee program for small agricultural businesses.

A lawyer for the state agency told the AP that the state agency decided to release the information on the basis of a 1998 opinion letter from the Texas Attorney General’s office, which stated, “We believe that the public has a legitimate interest in how and to whom [the finance authority] awards agricultural loans, and we believe that this interest is served by releasing the summary financial information.”

(First National Bank of Monahans v. Williams; Media Counsel: David Donaldson, Austin)

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