LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday threw out his order requiring the Los Angeles Times to delete part of an online article about a plea deal made between an ex-police detective and federal prosecutors – information gleaned from the court’s public computer records.
U.S. District Judge John Walter read his ruling from the bench at a Tuesday morning hearing. His ruling vacates the temporary restraining order he issued Saturday against the LA Times at the request John Saro Balian, an ex-Glendale Police detective who was arrested on a charge of making false statements to federal investigators during a probe of ties between the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime.
The details of the plea agreement between Balian and federal prosecutors was found on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, but Walter said the information should have been filed under seal.
The restraining order and subsequent filings on Saturday were filed under seal.
The Times shared the judge’s order and removed details of the plea deal from its online article but challenged Walter’s order. Nearly 60 news outlets and other organizations lobbied the Ninth Circuit for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief late Monday in support of the newspaper.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Walter said he issued the restraining order out of concern for Balian’s safety and to buy time to determine how the LA Times had gotten a hold of something that should have been secret. He has since determined the document ended up on PACER due to clerical error, he said.
“I’m concerned about somebody’s life. And if I err, I’m going to err on the side of protecting this defendant,” he said, according to the LA Times. “I’ve always been a strong proponent of the First Amendment and believe in public access to this courtroom.”
Reached by phone after Tuesday’s hearing, Balian’s attorney Craig Missakian offered a statement: “While we believe the court acted properly when it granted the original TRO, after the Times had published the sensitive information it left the court with no choice today but to vacate the order and deny the preliminary injunction.”
An email to the LA Times attorney was not answered by press time.