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Newspaper resists order to remove ferry lawsuit story from web site

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         ALASKA         Prior Restraints         Oct 29, 1999    

Newspaper resists order to remove ferry lawsuit story from web site

  • A Juneau newspaper did not comply with a judicial order to remove certain information from its web site, but may not face contempt charges because release of the information is no longer opposed.

The Juneau Empire defied a Juneau judge’s order in early October that it strip a story about a lawsuit over a ferry from its web site and not publish any further articles about certain documents, despite the fact that the judge had ordered the release of those documents earlier that day.

The court has not held the Juneau Empire in contempt for disregarding its order until the party opposing their release had a chance to appeal, according to Empire attorney Leslie Longenbaugh. Furthermore, the judge’s ruling may no longer be in effect because the party opposing release of the documents has now told the court that it no longer plans on appealing the case, according to Longenbaugh.

The documents in question concern Halter Marine Co.’s $46 million lawsuit against the state of Alaska for additional costs incurred in building a ferry for the Alaska Marine Highway System. In July, the Empire filed a freedom of information request with the state, and Halter Marine brought a court action in Juneau to keep the state from releasing the documents.

Early on Oct. 8, Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins had held that the state must release documents to the newspaper concerning Halter Marine and the ferry built for the Alaska Marine Highway System, the Associated Press reported. The paper posted a story to its web site that afternoon, but later the same day the judge granted a motion from Halter Marine to delay the effect of her order for the earlier of either eleven days or until Halter Marine decided whether to appeal the case to the Alaska Supreme Court, according to Longenbaugh.

The Empire had written a letter to Collins stating that the First Amendment’s prohibitions against prior restraints prevented the court from holding the newspaper in contempt for its refusal to abide by the court’s order, according to Longenbaugh. The Empire left in place a story that it had already posted on its web site, and two days later the story appeared in a print edition about the documents in question.

From the bench, the court ordered Empire managing editor Suzanne Downing to remove the web site story and to not publish any subsequent stories during the period of time that the order was in effect, according to the AP.

(Halter Marine Co. v. Alaska; Media Counsel: Leslie Longenbaugh, Juneau)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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