SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A California appeals court overturned an injunction barring the Orange County Register from covering testimony in a trial in which newspaper carriers accused the paper of labor violations.
The justices called the trial court’s order “an impermissible prior restraint” that violates the California and U.S. Constitutions.
Newspaper carriers filed a class action against The Register, claiming it denied them meal breaks, overtime pay, minimum wage and other benefits.
Ten days before the trial, they applied for a sweeping order barring the newspaper from reporting on “anything concerning or relating to any aspect of this litigation,” including the attorneys, the paper’s finances, and the economic challenges facing the “newspaper industry as a whole.”
The Register fought back, arguing that the requested order was facially unconstitutional, overbroad and vague.
The trial court denied the plaintiff’s application, but barred the paper from reporting on the trial testimony of any witnesses. It couched this prohibition in a broader order barring non-expert witnesses from the courtroom except to give testimony.
“During the hearing, the court explained that the gag order against The Register, like the related measures barring witnesses from observing or learning about other witnesses’ trial testimony, would prevent witnesses from being influenced by the testimony of others,” the appeals court wrote.
The Register immediately asked for an emergency stay of the gag order. The appeals court went a step further by ordering the lower court to lift the gag order, saying the order constitutes a prior restraint that “plainly violates the press freedoms guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions.”
The court added: “The problem is not only that the potential danger used to justify the prior restraint is not sufficiently compelling in light of a host of Supreme Court decisions overturning injunctions against publications that posed much graver threats to protected interests. The other problem is that less restrictive alternatives are available to protect plaintiffs’ fair trial rights without infringing on The Register’s First Amendment rights.”