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ACLU Challenges City Government's Bid for Gag Order Against Colorado Springs Newspaper


November 7, 2002

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) announced today that its lawyers will appear Friday in state district court in Colorado Springs to argue that a Colorado Springs alternative weekly newspaper should not be subjected to a court order forbidding it to publish information about a Colorado Springs police officer.

"A government gag order that singles out certain content in advance and forbids its publication is known in the law as a prior restraint," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "The First Amendment prohibits courts and government officials from imposing these prior restraints, which the Supreme Court has identified as most serious and least tolerable of the possible infringements on the right of free expression."


The request for the court order comes from the City of Colorado Springs, which filed suit last week to try to stop the Colorado Springs Independent from using information that its staff members obtained from Detective Jeffrey Huddleston's personnel file, which they reviewed at City Hall on October 29.


The Independent, which has been publishing each week in Colorado Springs since 1993, requested documents regarding Huddleston's job performance in conjunction with a 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 to Independent editor Cara DeGette and reporter John Dicker. 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 preliminary injunction the next day. A hearing is set for Friday November 8 at 8:30 a.m., in the courtroom of Judge David A. Gilbert


"The staff members from the Independent identified themselves as reporters and were permitted to review information that the City now wishes it hadn't disclosed," said Steve Zansberg, of the law firm of Faegre & Benson, who will represent the Independent as an ACLU cooperating attorney. "But once a newspaper lawfully obtains the information, it is up to the newspaper, not the government, to decide what information it shall publish. The gag order that Colorado Springs seeks in this case is the very essence of the censorship that the First Amendment forbids."

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