After ACLU Intervenes, City Officials Drop Effort to Obtain Gag Order Against CO Newspaper

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
November 8, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Colorado
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

COLORADO SPRINGS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado declared victory today after city officials withdrew a lawsuit that sought to prevent a weekly newspaper from publishing a news story critical of a local police officer.

Within hours of the ACLU’s announcement yesterday that it would enter the case on behalf of the Colorado Springs Independent, and shortly after it filed its brief in state court, the city cancelled a hearing scheduled for today and told ACLU attorneys that it would withdraw its legal action against the newspaper.

“We are very pleased that the city has recognized that prohibiting our client from publishing information its staff members lawfully obtained would be a violation of basic free speech rights,” said Steve Zansberg, of the law firm Faegre & Benson, who wrote the brief and is serving as an ACLU cooperating counsel.

The controversy began last week when Independent editor Cara DeGette and reporter John Dicker went to City Hall and requested documents about the job performance of Detective Jeffrey Huddleston, in connection with a planned investigative article intended to raise issues of police accountability in Colorado Springs.

According to the city’s lawsuit, a temporary clerk made a mistake by turning over the full personnel file. A supervisor eventually realized the mistake and retrieved the file, but Dicker had already taken notes, which he declined to surrender. The next day, the city filed its request for court order preventing the Independent from using the information in any news story.

The ACLU said in legal papers that the city’s action threatened the First Amendment right of a newspaper to publish information lawfully obtained about matters of public concern.

“City officials should have known from the start that the First Amendment prohibits the ‘gag order’ that it requested in this case,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “We are pleased that the city has seen the light and dropped its lawsuit against the Colorado Springs Independent.”

The Colorado Springs Independent is an alternative weekly newspaper that has been published since 1993.

“Now we can continue working on our investigative article without the distraction of this groundless lawsuit,” said DeGette. With the threat of court-ordered suppression lifted, the Independent’s article is expected to appear in an upcoming edition, which will be available online at www.csindy.com.

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