After battling with the state Attorney General’s Office for five months, The Trentonian won its prior restraint fight. I’m pleased to see, in publishing the story that I started reporting on last year, the newspaper also posted the document I lawfully obtained.
Judge Lawrence DeBello, who decided the case this week, which went into the backstory of how a 5-year-old kindergartner ended up in foster care after he was found with drugs at school twice in two months, ruled that I didn’t do anything illegal in obtaining the documents from the boy’s mother, Tashawn Ford.
On a personal note, it was vindication of what I have been saying for months — that I was just doing my job, within the scope of the law, and am not the by-any-means-necessary reporter the AG’s office has tried to portray me, in court and its court papers.
Great journalism stories have traitors, truces and triumphs. The AG’s office betrayed the First Amendment by asking for, and obtaining, a prior restraint injunction that prevented The Trentonian for publishing the details from the complaint and by persecuting and threatening to prosecute me for allegedly “enticing” the release of confidential records.
Then it offered a truce that, had I accepted it, would have been a tacit admission that I did something wrong. It also would have forever kept secret the details from the complaint, which the newspaper would have had to destroy. And it would have eroded newspapers’ rights to publish freely sensitive stories that scrutinized the government and its agencies, while setting a dangerous precedent of journalists being forced to give up their rights the Founding Fathers endowed upon us.
The triumph goes to my attorney, Bruce Rosen — also known as the pit bull at Park Place — and Trentonian attorneys Eli Segal and David Bralow. Rosen took up the case pro bono when it became clear me and my publication were on different sides of the issue.
I’m glad the newspaper eventually migrated back to my side of the aisle, in backing away from the proposed agreement, which was a big brotherly attempt to strong-arm us out of doing good journalism.
As my friend, Pat Lohmann once told me, “Journalism is doing the best for the most.”