By: The Associated Press
A judge has taken the unusual and possibly unconstitutional step of barring a Los Angeles Times photographer from publishing images she allowed him to snap at a hearing for a man charged with murdering a Hollywood family.
Lawyers for the Times asked the judge to reconsider the order Thursday, which a media group said amounted to prior restraint that violates the First Amendment right to a free press.
Superior Court Judge Hilleri G. Merritt upheld her order, which came during a hearing for Alberd Tersargyan, 60, who pleaded not guilty earlier this year to killing a Hollywood woman. Authorities alleged that he was infatuated with her, but she rebuffed his advances.
Merritt said that although images of Tersargyan had been made public, pictures showing him wearing a prison jumpsuit in the lockup area of the courtroom could influence potential witnesses.
“My job is to balance many interests,” Merritt said. “There are bells that cannot be unrung.”
Attorneys for The Times said they planned to immediately file an appeal.
Merritt had granted a written request from photographer Al Seib before Wednesday’s hearing. But after a defense lawyer objected during the hearing, she ordered him to stop taking pictures and not to use any he already had snapped.
There was no legal reason for Merritt to ban publication, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
He was scheduled for arraignment Wednesday on additional charges of killing the woman’s husband and 8-year-old daughter in 2008 along with a prostitute. That was postponed to Aug. 13.
The Times photographer was snapping photos when Deputy Public Defender Patricia Mulligan reminded Merritt that another judge previously barred photography and video.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Eric Harmon didn’t object to the photographs.
Merritt criticized the lawyers for failing to raise the issue earlier.
“The record clearly reflects concerns expressed by Judge Merritt in the balance between a fair trial and free press issues,” Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini said.