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Journalists fined for contempt for publishing under disputed name

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  1. Prior Restraint
    NMU         KENTU

    NMU         KENTUCKY         Prior Restraints         Jul 1, 2002    

Journalists fined for contempt for publishing under disputed name

  • The name “Mountain Citizen” was taken away, then given back, but three of the paper’s managers were each fined $500 for publishing while the name was in limbo

One week after allowing the Mountain Citizen to retain use of its name, an eastern Kentucky judge fined three of the paper’s employees for disobeying his previous order to not publish under that name while the rights to it were in dispute.

Marin County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Sparks on June 27 handed down a penalty of $500 each to the paper’s owner, Lisa Stayton; its publisher, Roger Smith; and its editor, Gary Ball. Sparks said that even after hearing testimony from the three last week as to why they should not be found in contempt of court, he felt compelled to issue the fines because they violated his order.

“To condone the actions of the defendants would be tantamount to promoting and fostering the disrespect and distrust of the judicial system,” Sparks said in his ruling.

The staff of the Mountain Citizen has published six issues since Sparks issued the restraining order. The order came after a prominent local attorney, John Triplett, obtained rights to the paper’s name from the state after its incorporation papers were inadvertently allowed to lapse. Triplett, also the former Water Board chairman and head of the area Republican Party, had been the subject of several critical stories about the water quality in Inez, Ky.

Triplett’s attorney said he obtained rights to the name because he is considering entering the local communications business.

The paper’s staff and its legal council contend that the contempt fines are unjust because the name they print does not include “Inc.,” which distinguishes it from the name Triplett acquired. Also, they printed a disclaimer stating the paper’s disaffiliation with that name. Ball said he did not know of the order in time to halt publication of the first weekly issue of the paper after the restraint and felt he was just “doing the job” by publishing.

But Sparks said the staff knew of his order and could have published under a different name — a defense he also used to explain why he thinks his decision does not infringe on press freedom.

(New Wave Communications Inc. v. Stayton; Media counsel: David Fleenor, Lexington) CL

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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