In a preliminary hearing Monday for a former teacher charged with sexually abusing his son, California Judge Bridgid McCann told Victorville Daily Press reporter Patrick Thatcher not to publish the last name of the alleged victim, who had testified in open court, the newspaper reports. Several First Amendment experts are questioning the legality of the judge’s move.
Attorneys told the Daily Press that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such orders violate the First Amendment, falling into the category of prior restraints, which are typically upheld in the rarest of circumstances.
The newspaper now can’t assume the judge’s directive "is intended as a mere request," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition; instead, it has cause to worry about drawing sanctions for a violation of it.
The Daily Press reported that it obtained the last name simply by being in the courtroom during the hearing. But editor Don Holland said the newspaper would not have printed the last name anyway, since it does not publish the names of sex crime victims without their consent.
"This is really based on 100 percent principal," he said the paper’s objections to the order. "We don’t want judges overstepping their bounds and telling us what we can and cannot publish."
The newspaper contacted McCann, hoping that she would rescind her order and simply ask the newspaper not to print the name, Holland said, but she would not discuss the matter. The Daily Press plans to file a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Performance, the editor said.
Scheer said he thinks there is a chance that "the judge will come to her senses" about the order, "but until that’s done, the newspaper is censored and the readers are not getting the information as the editors of the newspaper wish to bring it to them."