15:52, July 17 269 0 abajournal.com

2018-07-17 15:52:04
Federal judge lifts order requiring paper to remove story info gleaned from mistaken PACER release

A federal judge has lifted his order requiring the Los Angeles Times to remove a summary of a plea agreement from an article after determining the newspaper got the information from a document mistakenly made available in the PACER database.

U.S. District Judge John Walter of Los Angeles said at a Tuesday hearing that he wasn’t sure when he issued the ex parte order on Saturday whether the newspaper had legally accessed the sealed document, the Times reports. His investigation revealed the document was accessible because of a clerical error.

The article had described a plea agreement for a former Glendale, California, police detective accused of working with the Mexican Mafia. Walter said he was concerned about the former officer’s safety when he ordered the newspaper to remove the information based on an application by a lawyer for the ex-officer.

The newspaper had removed the information but appealed the order to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had proposed filing an amicus brief siding with the newspaper.

The 9th Circuit had not ruled before Walter reversed his order and allowed publication of the information. “I’ve always been a strong proponent of the First Amendment and believe in public access to this courtroom,” he said on Tuesday.

The Times spoke with constitutional experts after Walter’s initial ruling. They said the media is entitled to publish information that has been accidentally obtained, absent exceptional circumstances. The New York Times also published a story that said experts deemed Walter’s initial order a First Amendment violation.