Calif. Judge Temporarily Restrained Paper’s Coverage of Open Hearing

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(AP) A judge has relented in his effort to keep a newspaper from publishing details of an attempted murder case that were heard in open court.

Superior Court Judge Stephen H. Ashworth had told Gary George, a reporter for the Daily Press in Victorville, that he couldn’t publish information he heard at a hearing Monday regarding a taped confession of a man accused of trying to stab to death a neighbor in 2002, George said. The information came in a defense motion to suppress the evidence.

George said the judge did not offer an explanation but indicated he agreed with the defense’s argument that public knowledge of the alleged confession by Oscar Parra Jr. would influence the jury pool.

The newspaper reported that the judge’s gag order prevented it from publishing details of the case. Later in court, George said, the judge said he had never issued a gag order.

On Tuesday, the judge agreed to let jurors hear the confession and gave the Daily Press permission to write about the hearing, George said. Jury selection also began Tuesday.

A message left for Ashworth on Wednesday was not immediately returned.

The tape was played Monday in an open courtroom with Parra’s family present, the reporter said.

“The judge said, ‘I’m not going to see anything in the paper tomorrow,'” said George, who continued to take notes during the hearing. “This is open to the public. Why can’t I report on it?”

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled in the past 40 years that prior restraint of news coverage, except in the most sensitive national security matters, is unconstitutional, said Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspapers Publishers’ Association.

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