SunTimes_prior restraint_020619

Federal judge orders Chicago Sun-Times not to publish information

February 7, 2019

A federal judge reportedly ordered the Chicago Sun-Times not to publish the details of a court document, which the newsroom downloaded when it was mistakenly made public. The Sun-Times used this information in a story published on Jan. 29.

The Sun-Times article revealed that the FBI had secretly recorded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan pitching the use of his own private law firm’s services to a developer, in a questionable practice of merging personal and political business. The meeting was arranged by Alderman Danny Solis, who chairs the Chicago City Council Zoning Committee.

The story cites a federal court affidavit: “The details of the allegations against Solis are contained in a 2016 search warrant application filed by federal prosecutors seeking to search Solis’ City Hall office, campaign and ward office, homes and a North Side massage parlor where Solis allegedly received free sex acts.”

A week after the Sun-Times article, the business news site Chicago Business published a story behind the story. Citing anonymous sources, Chicago Business outlines how the affidavit was filed as part of an FBI request for a search warrant on Solis, a request that should have been sealed. Instead, it was mistakenly posted on PACER, a site through which the public can access federal court records. While it was temporarily available, the Sun-Times seemingly downloaded the document after it was published on PACER.

Chicago Business reports that Magistrate Judge Young Kim ordered the Sun-Times not to publish the details of the document, “presumably on grounds that premature publicity could undermine what appears to be an extremely wide-ranging federal probe into City Hall that has been underway for four years or longer.”

The Sun-Times reportedly defied this court order, and published the information contained in the document anyway. The Sun-Times declined to comment on the Chicago Business report.

Chicago Business added that “whether [Magistrate Judge] Kim will take further action” in response to the Sun-Times publishing the details of the affidavit is not known.

Courts have generally found cases of prior restraint — in which government officials seek to block information from becoming public — to be unconstitutional.

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

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