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Judge agrees to lift prior restraint; Ventura paper publishes first

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  1. Court Access
A California judge has backed off a gag order barring The Ventura County Star from publishing documents it accidentally received from a clerk,…

A California judge has backed off a gag order barring The Ventura County Star from publishing documents it accidentally received from a clerk, saying his order was wrong and unenforceable.

Even so, The Star and the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Superior Court Judge Ken Riley said he wouldn’t officially lift the order until lawyers for the murder suspect whose alleged confession is detailed in the documents had a chance to appeal the matter. The Star refused to wait. It published an article on the documents in Tuesday’s paper.

"The Star has been respectful and patient with the court while maintaining from the very outset that the gag order was unconstitutional," the paper said in an editorial. "Although we’re grateful Judge Riley agreed to a hearing Monday and recognized our First Amendment right to publish, his two-day delay is unacceptable."

The issue arose after a clerk gave a Star reporter and a local radio station a "less heavily edited" version than was deemed public of a search warrant for Calvin Sharp, who is accused of killing a boy with a meat cleaver, the paper said. The radio station broadcast the warrant, according to The Star, but the paper held off last week when Riley issued a gag order barring it from publishing "in any manner" the sealed portions.

A hearing on the matter was bumped up from Thursday to Monday. Riley, reasoning that it would be "unfair to prohibit The Star from using the information when the radio station had already broadcast it," in the paper’s words, ordered the gag order lifted mid-week, once Sharp’s lawyers could file an appeal.

Editor Joe Howry told the paper, "We respect the court and Judge Riley, but we are claiming our First Amendment right to publish."