New Orleans tries to bar newspaper from 'disclosing any information' in police report in alleged rape case

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


New Orleans is trying to bar a local newspaper from "disclosing any information" in a police report in an alleged rape case and from "contacting any individuals identified" in the report, according to a report by NOLA.com / Times-Picayune about the city's attempt to get an injunction against them:

A state judge on Monday rejected the city of New Orleans' request to block NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune from continuing to report about an NOPD document on the investigation of a Texas woman's alleged rape in a French Quarter hotel after Mardi Gras this year.

Judge Kern Reese denied the city's request as to the information contained in the police report, but told the news organization not to identify the woman.

Jim Amoss, editor of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, said, "While we disagree with that aspect of the judge's ruling under constitutional law, it is our practice not to name victims of sex crimes and we have not named the woman in this case."

According to NOLA.com, "[t]he city request asked the judge to bar the news organization from 'disclosing any information' or 'contacting any individuals identified' in the report," arguing that such publications could undermine the investigation and the alleged victim's privacy, and that the police report shouldn't have been shown to NOLA.

The woman held a press conference Nov. 21, with her attorney, Gloria Allred; her name apparently wasn't mentioned at the press conference, though she did appear, and parts of the conference were broadcast on television. A NOLA story reported that "details gleaned from the detective's report outline a number of inconsistencies in the woman's account."

If the woman's name was indeed given in the detective's report, then it's hard to see how an injunction against publishing her name would be constitutional, given that even damages liability for such a publication would be unconstitutional (see Florida Star v. B.J.F. (1989). The matter is less clear if NOLA had uncovered the woman's name in their own reporting—Florida Star stressed that in that case the newspaper published a rape victim's name that was erroneously released by the police department, and didn't consider what would happen as to such information that was gathered from other sources (such as interviews with witnesses and the like)—though I think that even there such an injunction would be unconstitutional. Nonetheless, it sounds like NOLA.com isn't going to be fighting that, given its own policy not to publish rape victims' names.

In any event, I'm glad that the court refused to stop the newspaper from publishing more on the story, and I'm troubled that the city of New Orleans would even try to gag the newspaper this way. If anyone knows more details on this, please let me know. Thanks to the MLRC MediaLawDaily for the pointer.