Tennessee investigative reporter Phil Williams, who is scheduled to testify against a former senator, and his news station are challenging a federal judge’s gag order preventing Williams from covering the story.
Williams and NewsChannel 5 argued in their petition last Thursday that the gag order is an unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech and free press, in violation of the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell issued the order last week warning witnesses in the corruption trial of former Tenn. state Sen. John Ford to keep quiet about the case in public.
Williams became involved with the Ford case in 2005, when he handed over to police incriminating evidence he discovered while reporting on Ford’s alleged corruption. Ford is accused of secretly accepting money from an HMO and using his office to channel funds to the organization. When Ford quit the Senate, Williams searched his abandoned desk and found notes from the HMO, which he turned over to authorities.
Although Williams and NewsChannel 5 have not objected to the prosecution calling the reporter to testify about his discovery, they are seeking a modification of the gag order that would allow Williams to continue to cover the case in his capacity as a reporter.
Williams makes clear in the motion that he does not plan to discuss his upcoming testimony.