The Ohio Court of Appeals is reviewing a judge’s $11,000 fine of a lawyer for telling a reporter about an upcoming civil trial. Media organizations already have submitted briefs in support of attorney Peter Pattakos, arguing that the fine levied against him amounts to an unconstitutional infringement on a free press. In some extraordinary cases, for good cause, judges have restricted lawyers’ ability to discuss the facts of a case with the media – but this clearly is not one of those instances, says Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback.
The Ohio judge’s order would effectively prohibit all communication between lawyers and media members in all cases, even communicating such innocuous details as when a trial is scheduled to begin. The Ohio court’s order violates both the lawyer’s right to free speech and the media’s right to free press. If the courts in Ohio do not clarify that such an order is highly inappropriate, then this is the type of ruling that would draw the U.S. Supreme Court’s interest. Ever since the days of Ben Franklin’s printing press, the public has relied upon the media to stay informed about court proceedings. The media historically have provided a means for average citizens to keep watch over the courts. Our founding fathers were well-aware that, without reasonable media access to information about court cases, the public’s trust in the legal system would quickly erode.