Judge again bars paper from publishing
A Missouri judge on Sept. 15, 2023, issued a preliminary injunction barring the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one of its reporters from publishing details about the defendant in a criminal trial, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The judge ruled that the injunction would stay in place until all evidence in the criminal trial had been presented.
Post-Dispatch reporter Katie Kull had obtained a copy of a mental health report for Thomas J. Kinworthy Jr., on trial for allegedly killing a police officer in 2020, when it was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court in May and mistakenly made available to the public.
Kinworthy’s attorney won a temporary restraining order in May against Kull and the paper after she contacted him for comment on the report, barring them from publishing about it. The judge then extended the temporary restraining order in July and held a hearing in August on the preliminary injunction, where the defendant’s attorney argued that the report’s release before the trial would cause insurmountable prejudice to his client.
The judge agreed that protecting the confidentiality of mental health records would in turn protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial, and therefore the prior restraint was justified.
“This is an overreach, and we strongly disagree with the arguments made to justify the decision,” Post-Dispatch Executive Editor Alan Achkar said. “This was a loss not just for us, but for press freedom and those First Amendment rights.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation, which oversees the operation of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, also condemned the injunction.
“Missouri Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan is trying to put the genie back in the bottle through an unjustified prior restraint,” said Deputy Advocacy Director Caitlin Vogus. “Prior restraints on the press threaten our democracy by allowing the government to control the media landscape.”
A Missouri judge on May 23, 2023, barred the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one of its reporters from publishing details from the mental health evaluation of a man set to stand trial for allegedly killing a police officer in 2020.
Post-Dispatch reporter Katie Kull obtained a copy of a mental health report on the defendant, Thomas J. Kinworthy Jr., when it was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court on May 18. According to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, two copies of the report were filed by mistake, with one incorrectly made available to the public.
Kull contacted the public defender representing Kinworthy for comment on May 22, the Riverfront Times reported, and the attorney immediately filed a request for a temporary restraining order. The following day, Judge Elizabeth Hogan granted the order, barring Kull, the Post-Dispatch and any of its employees from publishing about the report.
In a tweet, Kull wrote, “I tried to write a story but instead I found myself under a court order.”
On May 23, the Post-Dispatch filed an initial response to the order, asking that it be dissolved and noting that the Supreme Court has consistently rejected such orders when the documents were legally obtained.
“This is true even when statutes prohibit dissemination of such information, as is the case here,” attorneys for the Post-Dispatch wrote. “It is also true when information is inadvertently released that should not have been released, which is the apparent situation here.”
Neither Kull nor the Post-Dispatch responded to requests for comment.
Freedom of the Press Foundation, which oversees the operation of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, condemned the prior restraint.
“On the rare occasion when the government has a legitimate basis to withhold records from the public, the onus is on the government, not the press, to ensure that they’re withheld,” Advocacy Director Seth Stern wrote. “That’s why the Court has held at least four times that once the government releases records to the press, even accidentally, it cannot claw them back or prohibit or punish their publication, regardless of how sensitive the records may be.”
The restraining order will remain in place as the case progresses, according to the Times, and the Post-Dispatch has until June 12 to submit motions in opposition.