Our View: First Amendment wins out over local attorney

February 15, 2006 12:00 am

One of the things Americans hold dearest — the First Amendment — won out on Tuesday in Del Norte County Superior Court.

Crescent City attorney Leroy Davies had asked the court to take the unprecedented step of prohibiting in advance any news coverage of an unfolding criminal case. He also wanted court proceedings closed to the public, all court records sealed and an order prohibiting law enforcement officials from talking about the case.

Judge Robert Weir denied Davies' motion in its entirety.

In fact, he dismissed the whole matter as "frivolous," slapped Davies with monetary sanctions and offered stern words of warning that he does not want to see the same motion brought before the court again.

This was the third time since 2000 that Davies has filed essentially the same motion for prior restraint. All three times, judges have rightly ruled that his motion is utterly without merit.

You simply don't trifle with the First Amendment, which protects some of our most basic liberties: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. First Amendment experts tell us that prior restraint has never been granted except in extreme cases of national security — such as not publishing planned troop movements during wartime — and that there is simply no precedent in our country's 230-year history for prior restraint against the press in a criminal case.

Having already been rebuffed twice before, we believe it's fairly certain that Davies knew full well he didn't have a prayer of prevailing this time either. Nonetheless, he knew The Daily Triplicate would be compelled to oppose the motion — and pay significant legal fees for the privilege of doing so.

Sometimes, small newspapers are bullied into submission by such legal maneuvers. They either can't (because they lack the money) or won't (because they lack the courage) fight it out in court, no matter how worthy the cause. But The Daily Triplicate will not be cowed by such gambits as it responsibly pursues the interests of the community it serves.

This time around, The Daily Triplicate's legal bills have run upwards of $15,000. Local taxpayers also have racked up some big legal bills because of this frivolous matter. The Del Norte County District Attorney's Office and Crescent City's city attorney spent thousands of dollars worth of staff time responding to Davies' motion. And that's saying nothing of public money going to Davies as a public defender in the case in question.

We hope that Davies will take Judge Weir's words to heart. Hopeless legal motions certainly don't serve a defendant's best interest. And taking pot shots at the First Amendment doesn't serve the public's interest.

— The Daily Triplicate