Hospital Trying to Gag Press, Paper Claims

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – The San Diego Union-Tribune says it is facing a free-speech violation with a hospital district’s lawsuit for an injunction that would bar the paper from publishing certain mistakenly disclosed records.
     Tri-City Healthcare District sued the paper in San Diego County Court, seeking the return of certain documents “inadvertently” sent by mail earlier this month.
     The Tribune filed a motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law.
     “In a brazen affront to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the district sued the Union-Tribune to prevent the newspaper from disclosing, publishing or in any way ‘using’ the documents at issue,” the motion states. “The district maintained its suit even after the Union-Tribune voluntarily returned the documents. The district apparently made a mistake, but the only ones paying a price are the Union-Tribune and the public through the district’s pursuit of a baseless lawsuit.”
     On Sept. 20, a county judge rejected Tri-City’s request for a temporary restraining order.
     The court scheduled a hearing for Oct. 21 to hear the district’s request for an injunction to prevent the Tribune from using or publishing the records. It will hear the newspaper’s motion on the same day.
     In late August, Tribune Watchdog reporter Aaron Burgin sent an email to the hospital requesting expense records, including district-issued credit card invoices, as well as receipts and reimbursements for various members of the hospital’s management team.
     But the hospital accidentally sent confidential documents instead. After realizing the disclosure, it filed suit against the Tribune on Sept. 15, claiming the records are protected by attorney-client privilege.
     The Tribune counters that the district’s legal challenge is an “an unconstitutional restraint on speech.”
     “This is a quintessential SLAPP suit,” the motion states. “The district sued the Union-Tribune for exercising its constitutionally-protected rights. The obvious undertone of the entire action is an effort to stymie the Union-Tribune in its inquiry into the district’s activities. The law does not countenance such maneuvers and affronts to constitutional rights.”
     The Tribune is represented by Jean-Paul Jassy with Bostwick & Jassy of Los Angeles. Jassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Tri-City Healthcare attorney Katie Pothier with Wilson Turner Kosmo in San Diego declined to comment on the motion.

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