The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

Court vacates restraining order that barred journalist from contacting Georgia county commission candidate


This is the case I blogged about last week (click for further links):

Tom Owens is running for the County Commission of DeKalb County (a large county in the Atlanta metropolitan area). George Chidi, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer and now a city councilman in a small Atlanta-area town, wrote a sharply critical story about Owens. The same day, Owens got a Stalking Ex Parte Temporary Protection Order against Chidi.

The order, among other things, bars Chidi "from approaching within 100 yards" of Owens and from having "contact of any type, direct or indirect, or through another person, with [Owens]." Chidi is also barred from "follow[ing]" Owens or "plac[ing Owens] under surveillance." The hearing on whether to vacate or extend the order will be Oct. 22, so the temporary order will in any event take up much of the rest of the election campaign; the election is Nov. 4, and early voting begins Oct. 13.

This strikes me as very troubling, since it interferes with the ability of Chidi—a political commentator, blogger, and journalist—to cover a candidate for public office. Often, restrictions on deliberately being near a person, or on deliberately contacting a person, will only modestly affect the restricted person's ability to speak to willing listeners. But when that person is a political figure, that means the journalist can't go to the person's political speeches, can't ask questions at such speeches, can't get confirmation or denial on the stories he's writing, and so on. Indeed, the order would even bar Chidi from asking Owens questions through Owens' campaign manager or similar assistant (paid or volunteer)….

I am told that this restraining order was vacated yesterday, and that Owens's application for a warrant against Chidi on stalking charges was rejected the day before that; George Fletcher (Virginia Lawyers Weekly) has more:

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker on Oct. 15 heard the case on the protective order. She too threw it right out of court.

According to an observer in the courtroom, she told Owens that he should have expected reporters to be persistent, and that was the price he paid for running for office.

I'll blog more when I get a copy of the order vacating the restraining order (or other relevant details).