Another “What First Amendment” Moment: Judge Censors Newspaper Website

Isn’t the First Amendment supposed to prohibit the government from censoring the press?

Only a few days ago I posted about police actions that seemed to indicate they had no idea that there was a First Amendment attached to the Constitution. Now we get this story from KATC: “Daily Iberian ordered to remove comment from website after local lawyer sues paper.”

A district judge in New Iberia has ordered The Daily Iberian to remove an anonymous comment on its website that targeted local attorney David Groner.

The newspaper’s website has a forum on which people can post and share opinions anonymously.

According to the lawsuit Groner filed against The Iberian, an anonymous comment appeared on the forum recently and said Groner has a “reputation for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.”

Daily Iberian Managing Editor Jeff Zeringue said the comment also included a link to a public document from the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website detailing disciplinary action against Groner. In 2008, Groner was suspended for six months from practicing law, but the suspension was deferred in lieu of a one-year probation.

According to the lawsuit, he asked Daily Iberian Publisher Will Chapman to remove the comment, but Chapman declined to do so.

Groner maintained in the lawsuit that he “was not found guilty of conduct that involved dishonesty, fraud or deceit” and says the issue was for misrepresentation involving a client.

In the lawsuit, Groner asked a judge to prohibit The Daily Iberian from publishing on its website any article or story in which Groner is accused of “dishonesty, fraud or deceit in connection with a Louisiana Supreme Court decision or similar matter.”

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 25. District Judge Curtis Sigur signed a temporary restraining order the same day the lawsuit was filed in support of Groner’s request.

Zeringue said the newspaper has removed the comment from the website as the judge ordered, but the newspaper has appealed the judge’s decision and will put the comment back up if the appeal is successful.

It is strange that a temporary restraining order would be filed against a public document, and it’s even more strange that it got through the court so quickly,” Zeringue said.

The whole thing is strange. By common interpretation of the Constitution, this is exactly the kind of thing that the First Amendment prohibits. If Groner proved libel or defamation in a court of law, he would have the right to damages and to get the comment removed. But removing a comment before the a verdict has been rendered? How is that legal?