First Amendment Reigns as FCG Beats News Injunction on Walker Middle School Story
Kate Caldwell, who prowls the halls of the Edgecombe Courthouse, was tired of being denied access to records that the public should have, by right. Instead of waiting to be spoonfed by the proverbial powers-that-be, Kate went to the clerk’s office and panned for gold in the files of the Walker Middle School rape case. She found a mother lode: statements made by four former Walker Middle School students accused of sexually assaulting a classmate gave not only outlining their role in the alleged attacks, but shedding light on their interaction with coaches and the victim. Immediately, she called the office and, in a low and cryptic voice, said, “Get me a reporter and a camera. Quick.”
A story based on the documents was posted on TBO.com for about 90 minutes Thursday, July 30th. The teens’ attorneys and the state attorney’s office persuaded a judge to order that it be removed and prohibit further stories based on the information. Defense attorneys argued that release threatened their clients’ right to a fair trial and poisoned the minds of potential jurors.
The news outlets challenged the ruling, claiming it was an unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech. On Friday, the courts reversed their decision and allowed TBO.com and The Tampa Tribune to publish and News Channel 8 to air stories about statements. Janet Coats, vice president of news for the Florida Communications Group, said, “Friday’s reversal is not only a victory for the Tribune, News Channel 8 and TBO.com, but for the people of Hillsborough County who have a right to know the four teen defendants’ accounts of what happened.”
We did the right thing. Made the right calls. And we fought this so that the public has a better knowledge of what went on in the locker room.
This story is a wonderful reminder of just how important the work of journalists is. We are the watchdogs who hold government and the courts accountable. We work for the public. This order was never as much about telling us what we couldn’t publish or broadcast as it was about telling the public what it could not know. We never lost sight of that – that it is always, always about the public’s right to know. Our work matters. And it is still worth fighting for. Our victory certainly proves that.
Read the story on TBO here: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/aug/01/010022/na-rape-suspects-others-present/
Or watch WFLA’s video about the court injuction here: http://video.tbo.com/m/25559926/walker-rape-case-information.htm?q=walker+middle