Waco – Media outlets decried “prior restraint” on freedom of speech in news reporting in a strenuous legal objection to a gag order by State 54th Criminal District Judge Matt Johnson.
Filing as friends of the Court in support of a Waco lawn service operator and his attorney who have been enjoined by court order prohibiting their speech about the case, 16 media outlets and reporters associations filed a brief that claims the order is “unconstitutional, overbroad, and unsupported by findings of a sufficient likelihood of prejudice.”
The filing calls for a vacation of the order precluding public pronouncements of discussion of the facts of the case, as ordered to ensure that Matthew Clendennen may receive a fair trial.
The dispute arose when the Dallas lawyer filed a subpoenae to obtain copies of video surveillance camera depictions of exactly what happened when a shooting occurred on May 17 at Twin Peaks Restaurant that left 9 dead, 20 wounded, and led to the arrests of 177 persons on identical charges of engaging in organized criminal activity.
F. Clinton Broden, whose criminal defense practice hails from Dallas, overcame the objections of attorneys for the City of Waco and the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s Office in arguments before Judge Johnson.
The judge ordered the video surveillance released to Broden, but enjoined he and Clendennen, as well as members of his staff, witnesses, and opposing attorneys from making any public utterances regarding the tapes or the case in general.
They are the only parties to criminal litigation involving the incidents of May 17 at Twin Peaks Restaurant to be so enjoined.
He also precluded by protective order the public display or viewing of the material by anyone other than the attorneys involved, their staff members, or expert witnesses.
According to the brief prepared by an attorney representing the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, headquartered at Washington, D.C., the order by Judge Johnson violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution.
“The record in this case does not include any findings of inflammatory or prejudicial media coverage that would support a determination that Relator’s (Clendennen’s) fair trial rights would be threatened in any way by public access to information about his case – let alone findings of prejudice to the extent required to justify curtailing the exercise of state and federal constitutional rights,” wrote Hannah Bloch-Wehba, Counsel of Record, who signed off on the brief on behalf of the Committee.
The following news organizations joined as friends of the court:
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; The Associated Press; The Center for Investigative Reporting; Courthouse News Service; Cox Media Group, Inc.; First Look Media, Inc.; Gannett Co., Inc.; Hearst Corporation; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; National Newspaper Association; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; The New York Times Company; Newspaper Association of America;
Radio Television Digital News Association; The Seattle Times Company.