NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FLORIDA · Prior Restraints · Feb. 14, 2007
Judge modifies prior restraint order
Feb. 14, 2007 · A state judge in Florida who ordered a television station not to broadcast the contents of documents formerly belonging to a controversial political consultant modified his order on Monday, but still restricted what the station can broadcast.
Under the new order, the station can air most of the information but not all of it. The judge decided that details relating to medical records and communications with the consultant’s attorneys cannot be aired.
On Monday night, the station aired a story using information found in the documents. The story, which reported that Guetzloe may have given false testimony about who financially backed some of his political operations, has drawn the attention of state prosecutors, who are now asking the court to order the broadcaster to turn over some of the documents because they are “physical evidence of crimes.” The court held a hearing on Tuesday on the prosecutor’s request, which the station is opposing, but no decision was made.
The station’s attorney is appealing the judge’s order regarding what they cannot broadcast on the grounds that it is a prior restraint. An expedited appeal was denied on Tuesday, but the appeal can proceed on a non-expedited basis.
Doug Guetzloe, the man at the center of the controversy, is a political consultant who has been convicted of campaign law violations and is embroiled in other scandals that have garnered much attention in the Orlando area.
The documents in question were found in boxes that were auctioned off for $10 in November from a public storage facility after Guetzloe allegedly failed to pay his bill.
The person who bought the boxes gave them to a local television station, WKMG-TV Channel 6.
Once Guetzloe learned that the station had acquired the documents, he went to court and asked a judge to ban the station from reporting on the information discovered.
Without giving notice or allowing the station to oppose Guetzloe’s motion, Orange County Circuit Judge Rom Powell issued a temporary injunction Feb. 2.
The station’s lawyer filed motions opposing the order last week.
Powell on Thursday refused to deny the television station’s motion to dissolve the injunction but granted the station’s motion to reconsider.
On Monday, the judge issued an order saying that the station could air information from some, but not all, of the documents. Documents relating to medical issues or attorney-client communications cannot be aired under the judge’s order.
The station is appealing the judge’s order to a state appellate court.
When a court prohibits the media from publishing or airing a story, it is considered a prior restraint. Prior restraints are viewed by the U.S. Supreme Court as “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement of First Amendment rights,” as the court wrote in the 1976 landmark case Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart.
Gregg Thomas, a lawyer at the Thomas & LoCicero media law firm in Tampa, said of the judge’s decision, “When a court silences a reporter from producing a story about lawfully obtained information, it is particularly problematic.”
(Guetzloe v. Post-Newsweek Stations Orlando, Inc., Media Counsel: Jack Kirschenbaum, GrayRobinson, P.A., Orlando, Fla.) — CS