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Reporters Committee urges court to reject proposed gag rule

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  1. Freedom of Information
A rule proposed by the U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I., would impose a blanket gag on lawyers, parties and…

A rule proposed by the U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I., would impose a blanket gag on lawyers, parties and court employees in violation of the First Amendment, a coalition of five media organizations led by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in comments submitted to the court today.

The coalition, which includes the New England Press Association, the Newspaper Association of America, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and the E.W. Scripps Company, also argues that proposed Local Rule 110 impermissibly restricts access to information about the court system and creates a policy that runs counter to principles of open government and judicial accountability.

“We understand that courts want to protect the judicial process, but preventing the public from learning what’s going on in the publicly funded federal court system is not the way to do it,” Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish said.

Proposed Local Rule 110, entitled “Disclosure of Non-Public Information,” forbids lawyers, parties, court employees, interns, court security officers, U.S. marshals and deputies from revealing information not on the public record about any pending case without the court’s permission.

“Because gag orders can constitute a prior restraint on speech, they must be narrow in scope and based on a standard that safeguards the First Amendment rights of the speaker,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Clerk of Court David DiMarzio. “The proposed local rule defies both important principles because it is exceedingly overbroad and provides no standard for its application.”

Under the current Rule 39, lawyers may be gagged from making out-of-court statements about a criminal case only if “there is a reasonable likelihood that [such speech] imposes a serious and imminent threat of interference with a far trial.”

The proposed local rules can be found on the federal district court’s website, www.rid.uscourts.gov. The Reporters Committee’s comments can be viewed at www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20050811-reportersc.html