Judge rejects Arizona senator’s restraining order against journalist
A judge struck down an Arizona senator’s restraining order against Arizona Capitol Times reporter Camryn Sanchez during a hearing on May 10, 2023.
State Sen. Wendy Rogers filed for the restraining order in April after Sanchez visited two of her homes. Sanchez was investigating whether Rogers lives in the Flagstaff-area district she was elected to represent in 2020.
During the evidentiary hearing, an attorney for Sanchez said the reporter had consistently engaged in standard journalistic newsgathering activities, contesting the senator’s assertion that the harassment began when Sanchez approached her during the first day of the 2022 legislative session.
“If this court’s going to interpret a reporter asking a sitting senator about legislation they sponsored as being the first in a series of harassing events then it’s complete restrictions on the First Amendment, it’s complete prior restraint on the ability of a reporter to do their job,” attorney Christopher Hennessy said.
Judge Howard Grodman ruled that Sanchez’s visits to the senator’s homes did not meet the objective test for harassment and dismissed the restraining order.
“You may not like the questions that are asked to you and you achieved having her not contact you at your desk in the Senate, you achieved that in the Senate,” Grodman said. “I understand that you were genuinely feeling annoyed, harassed, violated by this but it doesn’t meet the reasonable person test to me and there was a legitimate purpose.”
Hennessy notified the judge of his intention to submit a motion seeking attorneys fees and costs.
Arizona Capitol Times reporter Camryn Sanchez was ordered to have no contact with state Sen. Wendy Rogers after the lawmaker obtained a restraining order against her on April 19, 2023.
The Capitol Times reported that Sanchez, who covers the state senate, was investigating whether Rogers lives in the Flagstaff-area district she was elected in 2020 to represent. The senator had purchased a home in Chandler and listed Tempe as her place of residence in the title documents, not Flagstaff. But Rogers had listed Flagstaff as her home on her nominating paperwork and campaign finance report. Both Chandler and Tempe are located near Phoenix, approximately two-and-a-half hours from Flagstaff.
Sanchez traveled to both the Chandler and Tempe homes in an attempt to identify where the senator was living, ringing the doorbells and speaking with neighbors, according to the Capitol Times. Sanchez declined to comment, citing advice from the newspaper’s attorneys.
Flagstaff Justice Court Magistrate Judge Amy Criddle granted the restraining order on April 19 following a hearing without Sanchez being notified or allowed the opportunity to speak in her own defense, according to the Capitol Times.
Rogers’ petition for an injunction against harassment not only requested that Sanchez be barred from approaching the senator’s homes, but also asked that the reporter be barred from entering the Arizona Senate building, the Capitol Times reported. Rogers had also asked Senate leadership to revoke Sanchez’s access to the floor in March, but Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen declined, instead directing the reporter not to approach Rogers on the floor.
On April 20, Rogers tweeted a copy of the restraining order and doorbell camera screenshots of Sanchez at her homes, calling the reporter’s behavior “creepy” and “bizarre.” In a statement by Rogers released by the Arizona Senate Republicans the same day, the lawmaker alleged that she was fearful for her physical safety.
“I don’t know this reporter personally, I don’t know what she is capable of, and I don’t believe anyone in their right mind would show up uninvited to my home at night,” Rogers said in the statement. “Therefore, I don’t trust that this person wouldn’t lash out and try to physically harm me in some fashion.”
Rogers did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
Society of Professional Journalists Phoenix Chapter President Tim Eigo released a statement supporting Sanchez, writing that she was engaging in standard journalistic newsgathering.
“Senator Rogers has made unfounded suggestions that the reporter may be a danger to the senator. But Sanchez was doing nothing more than her job as a journalist, inquiring into the accurate residence of a lawmaker,” Eigo wrote. “In the reporting process, she reached out to the senator for comment and clarification. It is that process, done by hundreds of reporters every day on hundreds of stories, that Senator Rogers has suggested is a criminal act.”
Capitol Times Publisher Michael Gorman condemned the no contact order in an op-ed for the newspaper, stating that it was an unconstitutional prior restraint.
“The petition and injunction were not about the Senator’s personal safety but were about silencing the press in direct contravention of the First Amendment,” Gorman wrote.
Gorman added that the Capitol Times intends to challenge the injunction. Executive Editor Gary Grado told Freedom of the Press Foundation, which oversees the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, that a hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for May 10.