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Order barring coverage of court documents in murder case vacated

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         NEW YORK         Prior Restraints         Sep 20, 1999    

Order barring coverage of court documents in murder case vacated

  • A trial court lifted its temporary order prohibiting a newspaper from publishing any information obtained from a court file about a pending trial.

A New York trial court reversed course in mid-August and vacated its order barring a newspaper from publishing information about the sworn statements of a woman charged with murder.

The court’s ruling lifted a temporary order that had prohibited the Tioga County Press & Sun-Bulletin from publishing any information obtained from a court file about the pending murder case against Eunice Baker. The day after the court signed the order, the newspaper published a story detailing the contents of Baker’s sworn statements because it did not yet know of the prohibition, according to affidavits filed with the court.

In support of its decision to vacate what it admitted was a prior restraint on publication, the court found that Baker had not sought to keep any documents under seal, the reporter obtained the judicial file lawfully, the newspaper had not knowingly violated the temporary order, Baker had several ways to minimize any negative pretrial publicity resulting from publication, and media other than the Press & Sun-Bulletin could use the same material.

According to reporter Connie Nogas’ affidavit, the Tioga County clerk handed Nogas the clerk’s file for the pending murder case against Baker on August 11. The file contained three of Baker’s sworn statements, according to Nogas.

On that same day, Baker filed a motion requesting that the court prohibit the Press & Sun-Bulletin from publishing any stories about Baker’s sworn statements. Without notifying the newspaper of Baker’s motion or giving it an opportunity to respond, the court signed a temporary order later on August 11 barring the Press & Sun-Bulletin from “publishing or otherwise divulging to the public any statements or other evidence obtained by it from judicial files concerning the prosecution” of Baker.

According to affidavits from Nogas and the executive editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin, neither Nogas nor her editors knew of the temporary order when the newspaper published Nogas’s story about the sworn statements on August 12.

(In the Matter of Eunice Baker; Media Counsel: Stuart M. Pearis and Mark A. Hubal, Binghamton)


© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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