ACLU Secures Reversal of 'Joe Cool' Gag Order

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 24, 2010 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The Third District Court of Appeal today ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s appeal from a gag order placed on Maria Gagliardo, who was unconstitutionally censored from writing about the widely publicized “Joe Cool” case.

A Miami-Dade Family Court Judge entered a gag order in October 2009 in the ongoing guardianship proceedings over the orphaned children. The order prevented Gagliardo and other family members from speaking about or publishing any information relating to the children, their family or the Joe Cool murders that orphaned them.

“All judges, including family court judges, take an oath to support, protect and defend the United States and Florida Constitutions,” said Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida and counsel for Maria Gagliardo. “The gag order was an outrageous restriction that robbed Ms. Gagliardo of her precious rights to free speech.”

In the opinion, Judge David M. Gersten, writing for the the Third District, held that:

“Prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights. As such, prior restraints are presumed unconstitutional. Therefore, only in ‘exceptional cases,’ will the courts consider censorship of publication acceptable.”

Ms. Gagliardo is a member of the extended family that suffered this tragedy. She has been writing a book about the family and since 2007, her writings have included the Joe Cool murders and her experiences with the civil and criminal justice system. Today’s order will enable her to continue writing about the family’s experiences and share those experiences with the family and the world.

“I’m very grateful to the ACLU for vindicating my First Amendment rights,” said Maria Gagliardo. “Since October 2009, I’ve been silenced – I haven’t been able to speak to family or friends about the children, whom I love dearly, or about their parents, Jake and Kelly Branam, who I miss terribly. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. Now I can speak and write what about what has happened in this case and I’m comforted in knowing that the children will someday know the truth.”

Download a PDF of the ACLU’s brief outlining the case here:

Download a PDF of the ACLU’s reply brief here:

Download a PDF of the order here:

ACLU counsel for Gagliardo are Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Counsel, and Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida.

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