PHOENIX — The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a judge’s order temporarily barring media from naming a prosecutor in a murder trial amounted to prior restraint of the First Amendment right to cover the case.
The judge made the ruling in November, after the prosecutor said allowing her name to be used in the murder trial could affect the outcome of a separate stalking trial in which she was the victim.
The appeal court concluded Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Erin O’Brien Otis should have considered less restrictive measures in addressing the concerns of prosecutor Jeannette Gallagher.
The Nov. 6 order by Otis came during a trial in which Gallagher was prosecuting a man in the child-abuse death of a 10-year-old relative.
At the same time, jurors in the stalking case were deciding whether to convict a defendant. Gallagher’s name had already been published in some news accounts of the murder case.
Otis noted the restriction on publishing Gallagher’s name could be lifted once the stalking trial concluded. They judge explained that she wanted to protect the rights of victims and defendants in each case.
Gallagher previously asked Otis to ensure that the media not cover the murder trial until the stalking trial concluded.
The Associated Press and other news organizations argued that withholding the name would be unconstitutional restraint on the press. Otis, however, overruled that objection.
The Court of Appeals said the extent of harm in the ruling by Otis was potentially significant but “simply too speculative to satisfy the co2nstitutional burden imposed on a prior restraint.” The court called Otis’ order unnecessary and ineffective.
The appeals court said Otis could have considered contacting the judge in the stalking case to see what sort of measures were already in place and whether others were needed.
The news organizations that challenged Otis’ order were The Associated Press, Arizona Republic, Azfamily.com (KTVK-TV), CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 12 News (KPNX-TV).