Judge strikes down prior restraint against the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
A Florida judge ruled in favor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on June 27, 2022, granting the newspaper’s motion to dissolve the prior restraint against publishing the names of deputies involved in a fatal shooting in April, the outlet reported.
Circuit Judge Charles Williams said that the ruling would go into effect at 4 p.m. the following day to allow time for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney's Office to file an appeal.
Melissa Pérez-Carrillo, the reporter named in the emergency injunction, published her article on June 28, 15 minutes after the deadline lapsed.
According to Pérez-Carrillo’s article, the Florida Center for Government Accountability published a story on June 23 with the full name of the deputy involved in the April shooting. The Herald-Tribune’s attorneys filed a notice with the court the following day arguing that the injunction against the outlet had been rendered moot.
Herald-Tribune attorney James Lake praised the decision in a statement to the outlet, saying that it clears the way for reporting on a matter of “enormous public concern.”
“The Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office should never have asked for an injunction in the first place,” Lake said. “If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government doesn’t have authority to censor the news."
A Florida judge granted an emergency injunction on June 10, 2022, barring the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and reporter Melissa Pérez-Carrillo from publishing the names of deputies involved in a fatal shooting in April, the outlet reported.
According to the Herald-Tribune, the State Attorney’s Office provided the outlet with the last names of the three deputies involved in a court-ordered eviction that resulted in the shooting death of a Sarasota resident as part of a routine public records request.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office argues that two of the deputies’ identities are confidential under Marsy’s Law, which provides certain protections to crime victims and was added to the Florida Constitution in 2018. Whether the law can be used to shield law enforcement officers in this way is at the center of a case being heard by the Florida Supreme Court stemming from a fatal police shooting in Tallahassee in May 2020.
Chief Circuit Judge Charles Roberts granted the request from the Sheriff’s Office and the 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening without notifying the Herald-Tribune, the outlet reported.
Attorneys for the Herald-Tribune filed an emergency motion to dissolve the injunction on June 13 on behalf of the newspaper Pérez-Carrillo. The motion, which was reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, contends that the order amounts to an unconstitutional prior restraint violating both the United States and Florida constitutions.
“It’s important for us to follow through on this action because we are committed to fulfilling our First Amendment right to responsibly report news about this case which is important and of public interest,” Jennifer Orsi, executive editor at the Herald-Tribune, told the Tracker. “We believe that once our arguments are heard, this injunction will be lifted.”
The law firm representing the Herald-Tribune told the Tracker that a hearing on the motion to dissolve has been scheduled for June 21 before Judge Charles Williams.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Sarasota Herald-Tribune Executive Editor Jennifer Orsi.