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Judge drops prior restraint in Florida sex abuse case

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  1. Prior Restraint
A Florida judge Friday reversed a ruling, issued just a day before, which prohibited the press from covering a high-profile…

A Florida judge Friday reversed a ruling, issued just a day before, which prohibited the press from covering a high-profile middle school sex abuse case, according to the Tampa Tribune.

On Thursday, Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Emmett Lamar Battles ordered that four defendants’ statements to law enforcement should “not be disclosed to the public until the criminal charges against the defendants are finally determined by adjudication, dismissal or other final disposition.” He added that any information already published about the statements, which were inadvertently released to the press, must “be immediately removed” from Web sites, according to media reports.

But the St. Petersburg Times reports Battles changed course after researching and speaking with press lawyers Friday, noting that “[i]nadvertent or not, there was a failure to safeguard these statements and they were released to the press.” Under those circumstances, Battles said, “[i]t would be unlawful and improper prior restraint to continue the order that was entered yesterday.”

A Times editorial cheered the change of course, even while adding that “the order should never have been issued” at all: “A judge has other tools to protect the fairness of a trial, including restricting what lawyers may say outside the courtroom, conducting vigorous questioning of potential jurors, or if necessary, allowing a trial to move,” the paper said. “But our constitutional system has essentially zero tolerance for prior restraint.”