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Florida news organizations to fight prior restraint at Monday court hearing

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  1. Prior Restraint
Florida news organizations are planning to attend a hearing on Monday to fight a judge's order not to publish the…

Florida news organizations are planning to attend a hearing on Monday to fight a judge's order not to publish the arrest report of a man accused of attempting to murder a 9-year-old girl at a Best Buy restroom.

Duval County Circuit Court Judge Adrian G. Soud prohibited news organizations from publishing portions of the arrest report of James Patrick Tadros, who is charged with false imprisonment, criminal mischief and attempted murder, until he rules on the issue following Monday's hearing with news organizations.

Tadros' attorney claimed that the arrest report contained an alleged confession from his client and therefore could be exempt from disclosure under Florida law. Judge Soud issued a temporary injunction. The next day, WJXT TV 4 published the report. The paragraphs in question include graphic details about how Tadros attempted to lure the girl into the store's restroom.

Soud did not hold the station in contempt and set a meeting for next Monday where attorneys from local news organizations could make the case for whether or not the injunction should be permanent.

Edward Birk, the station’s attorney, argued in papers filed to the court that Soud's actions are "an unconstitutional prior restraint of the news media which the Sixth Amendment does not require and the First Amendment cannot tolerate."

Prior restraints are the government restriction of speech prior to publication. The U.S. Supreme Court has held them presumptively unconstitutional. In Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, the Court called them “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Birk also argued that even if the unredacted police report was not a public record, Supreme Court cases such as Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Company and Florida Star v. B.J.F. show that, absent a state interest of the highest order, a newspaper cannot be punished for publishing truthful material of public significance that it lawfully obtained.

Birk noted in court filings that the station's ability to access the document was due to the clerk’s failure to redact the information in question.

“Judge Soud is proceeding in a careful, thoughtful manner. Ultimately, we believe he will agree that prohibiting publication of the disputed text is a prior restraint that is unconstitutional and cannot continue. There are many ways for the Court to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial without running afoul of the First Amendment,” Birk said in an email to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Soud has since clarified that the ban applies to all local media. The hearing on Monday will allow the media to address the court with legal counsel present.

Tim Conner, attorney for The Florida Times-Union and First Coast News, said in an interview Friday that the news organizations will fight the protective order.

Tadros’ attorney declined to comment.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· The First Amendment Handbook: Introduction — Fair trials — National security — Law enforcement investigations