A Duval County, Fla., judge on Wednesday denied a motion for an emergency protective order that sought to ban news organizations from publishing details of James Patrick Tadros’ arrest.
Jacksonville, Fla. TV station WJXT TV 4 had published portions of Tadros’ arrest record on Aug. 29 after Judge Adrian G. Soud issued a temporary injunction banning its publication. Tadros’ attorney argued that the report contained an alleged confession that was exempt from disclosure under Florida law.
Tadros is charged with false imprisonment, criminal mischief and attempted murder of a 9-year-old girl in a Best Buy restroom.
Soud’s ruling denying the motion explains that arrest and booking reports are public records, but Florida law allows some parts to be redacted. But the WJXT TV 4 reporter obtained – and later published – an unredacted version of the report due to an error committed by a clerk at the Duval County Courthouse.
Edward Birk, the station’s attorney, had argued that even if the report was not a public record the station could not be punished since it lawfully obtained the document. Soud agreed in his ruling Wednesday.
“Although a government may deny access to information and punish its theft, a government may not prohibit or punish the publication of the information once it falls into the hands of the press unless the need for secrecy is ‘manifestly overwhelming,’” Soud wrote.
Before WJXT TV 4 aired the unredacted report, it contacted the State Attorney’s Office and told it of its intent. At that point, the defendant filed the emergency motion asking the court to prevent the station from distributing what it learned from the unredacted copy.
After the station published the report in spite of the temporary injunction, Tadros’ attorneys asked the court to require WJXT TV 4 to show why it should not be held in contempt of court. Soud declined to find the station in contempt. He also ordered a hearing held on Monday to give media organizations the chance to express their concerns.
Birk argued in papers filed to the court last week that Soud's actions were "an unconstitutional prior restraint of the news media which the Sixth Amendment does not require and the First Amendment cannot tolerate.”
In finding for the media outlets, Soud agreed that forbidding the companies from publishing the report would be a prior restraint and that Tadros did not meet the “heavy burden” required to justify the restriction. Specifically, he found that “other alternatives short of prior restraint exist to ensure the Defendant’s right to a fair, public and speedy trial.”