Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fla. Appeals Court Strikes Judge's Order as 1st A. Prior Restraint

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In Maria Gagliardo v. In re the Matter of the Branam Children (Case No. 3D09-2958), Florida's Third District Court of Appeals overturned on First Amendment grounds a trial judge's order preventing a would-be author from gaining access to photos and information concerning the Branam children and the fate of their parents, who were murder victims in a high-profile case.

Jake and Kelly Branam were murdered on their expedition boat in September 2007, and their killers subsequently received five consecutive life sentences in a story that attracted media interest worldwide. After the plaintiff, who was the companion of the Branam children's great-grandfather, reported plans to write a book about the tragic story and the time she spent with the children, the aunt named temporary custodian of the youngsters went to court to protect the children's privacy.

The trial judge issued an order restricting the plaintiff and Branam relatives from distributing pertinent photos and information.  The appeals court relied on Post-Newsweek Stations Orlando, Inc. v.  Guetzloe (968 So. 608, 610 (2007), which presumes prior restraint violates the First Amendment's freedom of speech and of the press, and considers censorship of publications permissible only in "exceptional circumstances." The Florida appellate court said the Branam case offered "no exceptional justify censoring the writer." 

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