SPJ joins amicus brief supporting National Law Journal in prior restraint case
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, (304) 365-4864,
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is relieved Washington, D.C., Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff withdrew a restraining order against The National Law Journal, which attempted to publish information obtained from public records.
The withdrawal was requested by juice-making company POM Wonderful after filing of an SPJ-supported amicus brief authored by The Washington Post. The brief supports The National Law Journal in an appeal before the D.C. Court of Appeals. SPJ is one of nine media organizations that joined the brief.
The restraining order was issued July 23 against the National Law Journal by Bartnoff for information involving the identity of a regulatory agency’s investigation of the juice-making company.
In a statement following the amicus brief, POM Wonderful recanted, saying it never intended for its protected communications with a governmental regulatory agency and a private law firm to become a First Amendment issue.
Deciding it did not want the impending regulatory agency investigation or inquiry publicized, POM Wonderful previously moved to seal all documents referencing the investigation. However, the seal order did not include publicly open court files that NLJ reporter Jeff Jeffrey inspected and proceeded to report.
The agency in question has now been identified as the Federal Trade Commission. The restraining order sought by POM Woderful was to prevent the publication of that public information.
After the restraining order was issued, NLJ ran an edited version of the article without the regulatory agency’s name but included an editor's note, citing the publication’s fight against the court order.
Prior restraint of NLJ over public court documents is unconstitutional and a violation of the publication’s First Amendment rights. The judge’s previous ruling – now rescinded – put the secrecy of a private business before the public’s right to know.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.