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Reporters Committee objects to strict gag in Ramsey case

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced today that it protests the expansive gag order signed by the…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced today that it protests the expansive gag order signed by the Chief Judge of the Boulder District Court on October 13, 1999, which threatens any member of the public with prosecution for contempt of court if he or she contacts a member of the discharged Boulder County Grand Jury that investigated the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

Government-imposed secrecy denies the free flow of information and ideas to the public and any order restricting the journalistic right to gather news must be narrowly tailored to prevent a substantial threat to the administration of justice, according to the Reporters Committee.

“Courts will always make grand jurors swear oaths of secrecy forbidding them to talk to anyone about their investigations, but an order criminalizing the simplest steps in the newsgathering process in such a high-profile case is fundamentally offensive to the First Amendment,” according to Gregg P. Leslie, the Acting Executive Director of the Reporters Committee. “A sweeping prohibition of indefinite duration, without any attempt by the court to demonstrate a need or any indication of improper behavior, should not stand.”

The Boulder court has attempted to indefinitely restrict the media’s ability to contact former grand jurors who had been dismissed by the Boulder County District Attorney.

The United States Supreme Court has noted that “the invocation of grand jury interests is not ‘some talisman that dissolves all constitutional protections.’ . . . Indeed, we have noted that grand juries are expected to ‘operate within the limits of the First Amendment,’ as well as the other provisions of the Constitution.”

“The media serves the public and the judiciary by revealing aspects of the judicial process through the dissemination of information about litigation,” Leslie said. “Courts have interpreted the First Amendment to protect not only publication of news but also the media’s news gathering practices. The court does not have the power to restrict the media’s right to investigate and publish information that it lawfully obtains.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a voluntary, unincorporated association of reporters and news editors dedicated to protecting the First Amendment interests of the news media. It has provided research, guidance and representation in major press cases in state and federal courts for 30 years.