Rulings in the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson cases may reshape settled First Amendment law, says the New York Times. The judges are trying to reconcile the rights and appetites of the press, the privacy of people who say they were sexually assaulted, and the fair-trial rights of celebrity defendants. In each case, the courts have ruled that the defendant’s fame requires imposing greater restrictions on information released to the public. In the Bryant case, the Colorado Supreme Court imposed a prior restraint, barring news organizations from publishing information from a transcript mistakenly e-mailed to them by a court clerk. That ruling was at odds with U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In the Jackson case, a judge has issued orders preventing release of most information concerning evidence and potential witnesses’ identities. That also is an unusually sweeping approach.
Seven news organizations that received the information in the Bryant case have filed an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision. In the Jackson case, Judge Rodney Melville told an attorney for news organizations: “The difficulty of seeing that any individual in the country gets a fair trial is exasperated when the individual themselves is known around the world, and it makes it very difficult for that individual to get a fair trial.” Attorneys for Jackson said that public interest in the case was “voyeuristic and entertainment-related,” requiring extraordinary secrecy. “One can imagine other cases which might have a direct impact on the public welfare, national politics or international relations,” they said. “This is not one.” In response, media lawyer Theodore Boutrous said, “What he is really seeking is a blanket celebrity exception to the First Amendment that would turn the notion of public access upside down.”