U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

North Carolina judge seizes reporter’s notes, issues gag order

Incident Details

Date of Incident
July 28, 2023

Prior Restraint

Status of Prior Restraint
Mistakenly Released Materials?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
In custody
Search Warrant Obtained
July 28, 2023

Kenwyn Caranna, a government reporter for the News & Record, was covering a juvenile court hearing on July 28, 2023, when a North Carolina judge seized her notes and told her she was under a gag order.

News & Record Executive Editor Dimon Kendrick-Holmes wrote that Caranna had been observing proceedings in the Greensboro courtroom most of the day, the only exception being a closed hearing when all observers were ordered to leave the courtroom.

District Court Judge Ashley Watlington-Simms reportedly asked Caranna to identify herself later in the day. When Caranna did so, the judge denied the reporter’s request to speak with an attorney and left the courtroom to consult with Chief District Court Judge Teresa Vincent.

When she returned, Watlington-Simms told Caranna she was under a gag order. The judge then directed bailiffs to seize Caranna’s notes from the day’s proceedings, telling the journalist she could appeal the decision on a later date.

Watlington-Simms entered a formal protective order on Aug. 2, which stated that the prior restraint was necessary to protect confidential information from the juvenile court cases, according to the News & Record. The order also sealed Caranna’s notes and barred her from disclosing information from the cases she observed.

The News & Record has requested a hearing to vacate the gag order as well as unseal and return Caranna’s notes.

When reached by email, Caranna directed the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker to a newsletter about the ruling, but declined to comment further. The newsletter reported that a district trial court coordinator refused to release a copy of the protective order, stating that it is confidential.

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