U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Denver Gazette barred from publishing article based on mistakenly released documents

Incident Details

Date of Incident
April 25, 2022
Brighton, Colorado

Prior Restraint

Status of Prior Restraint
Struck down
Mistakenly Released Materials?

A portion of the order barring The Denver Gazette from publishing information obtained from mistakenly released court documents related to the trial of a former police officer.

April 28, 2022 - Update

Judge lifts gag order on Denver Gazette article based on mistakenly released documents

On April 28, 2022, a District Court judge lifted the protective order barring The Denver Gazette from publishing an article based on court documents that were mistakenly released to reporter Julia Cardi.

In her order granting the newspaper’s motion to vacate the order, Judge Priscilla Loew concluded that the state’s “interest in protecting grand jury secrecy in this case, where the grand jury has completed its deliberations, does not outweigh The Denver Gazette’s First Amendment right to publish truthful and lawfully-attained information.”

Loew’s order stipulates that the prior restraint will be lifted at noon on May 2 in order to allow the attorney general’s office the opportunity to appeal the decision. In an article for the Gazette, Cardi reported that the outlet has learned that the AG does not plan to appeal.

April 25, 2022

A judge issued an order on April 25, 2022, barring The Denver Gazette from publishing an article based on court documents that were mistakenly released to reporter Julia Cardi. The outlet’s attorney has filed a motion asking the judge to vacate the order, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

According to the newspaper’s motion, on April 14 Cardi requested a number of recent public filings in the cases of each of the police officers and paramedics charged in connection with the the death of Elijah McClain in August 2019. The clerk at the Adams County Courthouse provided her a stack of documents that included filings in the case of former Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard, which a judge had sealed from public access.

Cardi wrote on Twitter that she notified the Attorney General’s office on the morning of April 25 that the Gazette would be publishing an article based on the mistakenly disclosed records. By that afternoon, she wrote, she received the order barring them from moving forward with the piece and telling her to destroy any copies of the documents.

“So now we fight for our right to publish information that is in the public’s interest to know,” Cardi wrote. “I have to admit the version of me at 9 a.m. on Monday had no idea what this situation would turn into. But all we can do now is put up the best fight we can.”

Neither Cardi nor the Gazette respond to requests for further comment.

District Court Judge Priscilla Loew, who issued the protective order, wrote that the disclosure of these materials to the public would threaten grand jury secrecy and the defendant’s right to a fair trial and impartial jury.

Gazette attorney Steven Zansberg filed a motion to lift the gag order on April 26, stating that Cardi obtained the documents lawfully and that barring the newspaper from publishing information of legitimate public concern violates its First Amendment rights.

Zansberg told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that Loew ordered all parties to respond to the newspaper’s motion by April 28, and he said he expects a hearing to be set shortly.

“The judge’s order demanding the parties to file responses by noon [on April 28] said that the court agrees that this was a matter of utmost importance and needed to be resolved quickly,” Zansberg said. “It is a big deal, there’s nothing worse. And that’s what the Supreme Court says about prior restraints: They are the least tolerable and most objectionable form of censorship.”

Zansberg noted that the response from the former police officer in the matter, Woodyard, also asserted that the prior restraint was unconstitutional and should be lifted. The Tracker was unable to access that filing as of publication.

The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].