After ACLU Enters Case, Colorado Springs Drops Effort to Obtain Gag Order Against Weekly Newspaper
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 8, 2002
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) reported success today in stopping the City of Colorado Springs from obtaining a court order that would have prevented the Colorado Springs Independent from publishing information about a Colorado Springs police officer.
Citing the First Amendment right of a newspaper to publish information lawfully obtained about matters of public concern, the ACLU announced yesterday morning that its lawyers would represent the weekly newspaper in a hearing that was scheduled for today. In the hearing, a Colorado state court judge was to decide whether to grant the City's request for an order prohibiting the paper from publishing certain information it had obtained from the City's files.
Within hours after the ACLU announced its entry in the case (and shortly after the ACLU filed its brief), the City canceled the hearing and told the ACLU that it would withdraw its legal action against the newspaper. "We are very pleased that the City has recognized and acknowledged that it cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, prohibit the Colorado Springs Independent from publishing information its staff members lawfully obtained by going to City Hall, identifying themselves as reporters, and taking notes on a file they were given to review," said Steve Zansberg, of Faegre & Benson, who wrote the ACLU brief that was filed yesterday.
"Now we can continue working on our investigative article without the distraction of this groundless lawsuit," said Cara DeGette, editor of the Independent.
"The City of Colorado Springs should have known from the start that the First Amendment prohibits the gag order that it requested in this case," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "We are pleased that the City has seen the light and dropped its lawsuit against the Colorado Springs Independent."
The controversy began last week when DeGette and Independent reporter John Dicker went to City Hall and requested documents about the job performance of Detective Jeffrey Huddleston, in connection with their planned investigative article intended to raise issues of police accountability in Colorado Springs.
According to the City's lawsuit, a temporary clerk made a mistake by turning over the full personnel file. A supervisor eventually realized the mistake and retrieved the file, but Dicker had already taken notes, which he declined to surrender. The City filed its lawsuit and request for court order the next day.
With the threat of court-ordered suppression lifted, the Independent's article is expected to appear in an upcoming edition, which will be available on the web at www.csindy.com.