• Judge sees the light, lifts gag order Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    A Washington, D.C., district court judge has lifted her order barring the National Law Journal from quoting court records, defusing what was shaping up to be a major First Amendment battle.

    The case grew out of a dispute over legal fees incurred by POM Wonderful as it dealt with a regulatory investigation into ad claims of the benefits of its pomegranate juice.

    POM asked the judge to seal the records identifying the regulatory agency, which the judge did, and then barred the National Law Journal from naming the agency even though it obtained the information before the record was sealed. Lawyers for the National Law journal complained that theĀ  order defied 80 years of First Amendment case law.

    “Look — if I’m throwing 80 years of First Amendment jurisprudence on its head, so be it,” replied Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff. “But none of that First Amendment jurisprudence, to my knowledge, is dealing with this issue. The question is, what authority do you have for the proposition that the First Amendment trumps court orders sealing files?”

    Apparently, she figured out the answer herself, with help from POM lawyers who this week rescinded their request that the files be sealed.

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