Media Victory in NJ A.G.’s Censorship Suit

A New Jersey judge has dismissed the state attorney general’s prior-restraint case against The Trentonian and a reporter who gained access to a child-abuse complaint.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Lawrence De Bello ruled on March 27, 2017 that the state presented no evidence that reporter Isaac Avilucea illegally obtained the verified complaint.

De Bello had previously ruled that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, lawfully obtained information cannot be the subject of a prior restraint.

At issue was the complaint against family members of a 5-year-old boy, who was found with drugs at school twice in six weeks.

Avilucea, represented pro bono by MARC partner Bruce S. Rosen, said he obtained the complaint from the child’s mother in a courtroom hallway.

The Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, contended that Avilucea did not receive the complaint legally. The state moved to bar the newspaper from publishing the information, and last October, Judge Craig Corson issued a temporary injunction.

In February, De Bello said Avilucea’s testimony on how he got the complaint was credible.

The suit is unusual because courts rarely issue prior restraint orders against media outlets.

Read De Bello’s order here.

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