• Sanity prevails in LA Times prior-restraint case Friday, August 20, 2010

    Always nice to see when the system working the way it should, but I’m still scratching my head over the breakdown in logic by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Hilleri J. Merritt when she ordered a news photographer to not publish photographs of a murder defendant she had earlier given him permission to take.

    The California Court of Appeals Thursday overruled Merritt’s attempt to bar publication of the photos as unconstitutional prior restraint of the press (and the Los Angeles Times smartly wasted no time in publishing the photos).

    In overruling Merritt — who subsequently vacated her order — the court rejected Merritt’s and the defense lawyers’ argument that the photos would jeopardize the defendant’s right to a fair trial, particularly since photos of the man, Alberd Tersargyan, were already public.

    That’s the easy call. The bigger issue to me, and one that apparently went unaddressed by the appeals court, is a trial judge giving permission for photos to be taken, letting the photographer take the pictures – and then rescinding the permission. I would have liked to have seen the appeals court weigh in on that issue — does the judge have the right to unring the bell once he or she has granted the news photographers permission to work?

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