A judge issued an unusual order yesterday, telling a Los Angeles Times photographer not to publish pictures after granting him permission to take them. Legal experts told the Times that prohibiting publication of an image that a photographer had permission to take could violate the 1st Amendment. The case involved Alberd Tersargyan, 60, who was in court for a scheduled arraignment on multiple murder counts in connection with the slayings of four people – including three members of the same family – from 2008 to 2010.
Judge Hilleri Merritt approved a request by Times photographer Al Seib before the arraignment to take pictures of Tersargyan. During the hearing, prosecutor Eric Harmon reminded the judge about a prior order banning photography and video. Harmon said it was possible the pictures could affect potential eyewitness testimony but didn’t object to the photographs. Defense lawyer Patricia Mulligan objected to having her client photographed. Merritt chastised both sides for not raising the issue earlier but then told Seib to immediately stop taking pictures and ordered him not to publish the images he had already taken. Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said there was no legal reason why the judge should not have allowed the pictures to be published absent a demonstration of “direct, immediate, physical harm that is not speculative.”