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Judge orders media to halt sex assault trial coverage

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  1. Prior Restraint
A Florida judge issued an emergency order Thursday prohibiting the press from reporting on a high-profile trial of middle school…

A Florida judge issued an emergency order Thursday prohibiting the press from reporting on a high-profile trial of middle school students accused of sexually assaulting a classmate in a  locker room.

According to multiple news reports, Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Emmett Lamar Battles issued the injunction. Battles ordered that the defendants’ statements regarding the events, which were inadvertently released to the press, should “not be disclosed to the public until the criminal charges against the defendants are finally determined by adjudication, dismissal or other final disposition.” The judge added that “[t]o the extent that such statements or the contents of such statements have been posted on the Internet or in other media, all references to the alleged statements of the defendants in this cause are to be immediately removed.”

The Tampa Tribune reports that the State Attorney’s Office faxed the order to media outlets. “In response to the injunction,” the paper reports, “a story that was first reported on TBO.com about the four teen defendants’ accounts of the alleged attacks was taken down from the Web site an hour and a half after it was first posted about 3:30 p.m.” A television station, News Channel 8, also canceled a planned report in response to the order.

Though they complied with the order, the groups are challenging it as an unconstitutional prior restraint on the press. The Tribune reports that its attorneys tried, but failed, to get a hearing on the issue last night. The TBO.com article apparently remains available on other Web sites.