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Court turns back journalist's attempt to overturn gag order

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A federal appellate court last week rejected a Texas journalist’s attempt to overturn a gag order in a case against…

A federal appellate court last week rejected a Texas journalist’s attempt to overturn a gag order in a case against a Saudi citizen accused of terrorism, but left open the possibility that the reporter could continue his appeal by other means.

James Clark, a Lubbock, Texas, broadcast journalist who is representing himself, said he plans to continue to pursue his bid to overturn a gag order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Sam Cummings in the case of U.S. v. Aldawsari.

Prosecutors charged Khalid Aldawsari with attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, alleging Aldawsari made a chemical bomb in a plot to blow up several potential targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush.

Clark’s legal work began in March when Cummings issued a gag order that prevented the parties in the case from communicating with the news media.

Clark filed a motion to intervene and to overturn the gag order in the district court, both of which were denied. Clark then filed a petition for mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.), asking the court to overturn the lower court's action. A mandamus petition is a procedure that allows a person to request that an appellate court issue an order to a lower court.

In the ruling issued on Friday, the appellate court turned back Clark’s petition, saying that mandamus was an improper procedural action to undertake when he had the option of a more direct appeal of the denial. But the court also left open the possibility for Clark to challenge the district court's ruling through the appeal process.

In an interview on Tuesday, Clark said he was reviewing the appellate court decision.

“It did come as somewhat of a surprise,” Clark said of the ruling. “I don’t know exactly how I’m going to handle this.”

After conducting more research on the issues, Clark said he plans to continue his appeal.

"They didn't rule against me on the merits," Clark said. "So there will be more research and writing as the fight continues."

Clark also, on his own behalf, tried in June to open a status hearing to the public in the Aldawsari case.

Clark filed a motion to intervene and reconsider when he learned that a court hearing initially scheduled to be public was going to be conducted in the judge’s chambers.

Clark’s motion was denied after attorneys in the case agreed to a scheduling order, which was the purpose of the hearing. Because of the agreement, the hearing was no longer necessary, according to the judge.

Clark works as an executive producer at television station KCBD in Lubbock, though he is representing himself as an individual journalist in his legal filings with the court.