RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are joining the Des Moines Register and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to call on the Iowa Supreme Court to reverse an order from one member of the court that prohibits the newspaper from publishing legally obtained court records.
Last week, Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins forbade the Register and reporter Clark Kauffman from publishing documents relating to Montana attorney Jaysen McCleary, who is licensed to practice in Iowa. McClearly claims the papers, which were inadvertently filed by someone in his law office, contain personal and financial information that were never meant to be made public.
Nonetheless, they had been available to the public for months until a district judge sealed them, but denied McCleary’s motion to hold the newspaper in contempt of court, since the Register had obtained them before they were sealed.
McCleary appealed, hence the order from Justice Wiggins.
“This is an obvious case of prior restraint, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled since 1931 is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The only acceptable remedy is for the full Iowa Supreme Court to overturn their colleague’s unjust order and to do so post haste,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
The Iowa Freedom of Information Council called Justice Wiggins’ order “extraordinary and very troubling.”
Iowa is not the only state where judges are defying the widely accepted case law nullifying the concept of prior restraint.
A divided Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, last week denied requests from The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Columbus Dispatch to release unredacted autopsy reports from an unsolved case in which eight relatives were murdered in southern Ohio last year.
In Indiana, a state appeals court recently upheld a lower court ruling prohibiting Quincy-owned WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne from broadcasting court-generated audio recordings legally obtained by the station. The recordings documented the sentencing phase in the trial of a prominent local physician convicted of sexual misconduct charges.
The judge in the case, who gave the physician a sentence many in the community protested as being unusually light, has now been sued himself for allegedly committing “sex-based harassment” against a court officer.
“These cases in Iowa, Ohio and Indiana are another symptom of the anti-news media climate in which we presently live. While not questioning the motives of the judges involved in these cases, or disregarding the different circumstances involved, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they are emanating from states where claims that responsible journalism is ‘fake news’ have resonated with large numbers of people,” Shelley added.
“Unless these unfortunate rulings are reversed, we very well may be seeing a wave of court orders restricting the public’s right and, more important, need to know the truth,” he said.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force early this year to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom throughout the nation. Reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.