The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

No Gag Order on Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Sean Parnell's Estranged Wife


From the Philadelphia Inquirer (Jonathan Tamari):

A judge has denied Sean Parnell's request for an expansive gag order against his estranged wife and her attorney, though the judge did seal some parts of the ongoing custody fight that has roiled Parnell's [primary] campaign for U.S. Senate.

Judge James Arner, overseeing the Butler County custody case, refused Parnell's request for an order that would have barred his wife, Laurie, and her attorney from publicly discussing two temporary protection-from-abuse orders issued against Parnell in 2017 and 2018. In his order, the judge also declined to seal the custody case's records and to bar Laurie Parnell from discussing the case, as Parnell sought….

In seeking the gag order covering the protection-from-abuse orders, Parnell, one of the leading Republican candidates in a critical Senate race, sought to silence his wife on a subject that has threatened to become a major campaign liability, fueled in part by continued attacks from one of his main rivals, Montgomery County real estate developer Jeff Bartos.

The judge did "order both parents, who are seeking a divorce, to refrain from disclosing any information about the mental and physical health and treatment of their three children, as well as any information about psychological evaluations of the Parnells and their children filed as part of the dispute"; that may have been largely stipulated to by both parties ("Laurie Parnell said she would agree to sealing personal information involving their children but not regarding the parents"), cf. Perricone v. Perricone (Conn. 2009).

I haven't been able to find the records online, so I'm working here from the newspaper articles; but based on what I see there, and the general legal rules, I think any such gag order on Laurie Parnell would indeed have violated the First Amendment. Thanks to Bruce Wessel for the pointer.