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Federal judge rejects city’s attempt to censor newspaper ad

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         UTAH         Prior Restraints         Nov 8, 1999    

Federal judge rejects city’s attempt to censor newspaper ad

  • A newspaper will not have to halt publication of an advertisement paid for by lawyers involved in a civil rights suit against the Tooele City police department.

A federal trial judge in Salt Lake City has rejected the efforts of city officials to censor an advertisement being published in a local newspaper. Judge Dee V. Benson issued an oral ruling from the bench in early November denying a request by Tooele City to halt continued publication of an advertisement in the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, according to the Associated Press and the Transcript-Bulletin.

The advertisement was paid for by lawyers who have filed suit on behalf of three current and former Tooele City citizens against the police department for alleged civil rights violations and requests that other citizens notify the law firm if they believe that the police have violated their civil rights.

Attorneys for the city’s insurance company filed a motion on Oct. 29 with Benson — who is presiding over the lawsuit against the city — seeking to have the court order the newspaper to strike “inflammatory and prejudicial” language from the advertisement, which was slated to run six times beginning on Nov. 2, according to the Transcript-Bulletin. The motion requested that the court order the newspaper to delete the first paragraph of the advertisement — describing the alleged actions of the Tooele police — and the headline “Civil Rights Violation!” because the advertisement as written could taint the jury pool and contaminate witnesses, according to the Transcript-Bulletin.

The law firm that submitted the advertisement responded that the city’s actions would unconstitutionally restrain the law firm’s speech and said the request was a “bald claim without specific proof of prejudice.” It added that the First Amendment protects the printing of an advertisement designed to inform and seek information from the community.

City officials had learned about the advertisement from a story that discussed the advertisement, as well as the underlying lawsuit, published in the Transcript-Bulletin on Oct. 28, according to AP.

The lawsuit alleges that police officers improperly entered a mobile home and arrested an individual for public intoxication and giving false information to a police officer, according to AP. The lawsuit also states that the charges were later dropped.

(McDonald v. Hewitt)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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