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Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. v. First Judicial District Court

Supreme Court of Wyoming

August 18, 2015

CHEYENNE NEWSPAPERS, INC., Petitioner,
v.
FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, STATE OF WYOMING, COUNTY OF LARAMIE, Respondent

As corrected December 8, 2015.

OPINION

E. JAMES BURKE, Chief Justice.

Page 494

Order Reversing, in Part, " Order Concerning Media Access During Trial"

[¶1] This matter came before the Court upon a " Petition for Writ of Review of Media Access Order and Request for Expedited Review," filed herein August 12, 2015. Petitioner Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. challenges

Page 495

a prior restraint on publication imposed by Respondent District Court. That restraint provides that " No one may . . . release the name of a juvenile witness during the trial" scheduled to begin Monday, August 17, 2015, in the case of State of Wyoming v. Phillip Sam, Docket 32-316, First Judicial District Court for the State of Wyoming. Although the media and the public are permitted to attend the open trial, they are prohibited from revealing the names of minor witnesses. Those witnesses will be identified by name when they testify. The question here is whether that prohibition survives constitutional scrutiny.

[¶2] After an initial review of the petition, this Court, on August 13, 2015, entered an " Order Granting Request for Expedited Review." We permitted responses to be filed on or before 9 a.m. on Monday, August 17, 2015. This Court further notified the parties that a final decision on the petition would be made by 5 p.m. on August 17. Now, after further review of the petition, the materials attached thereto, the " Wyoming Attorney General's Response to Petition for Writ of Review of Media Access Order," the materials attached thereto, and the file, this Court finds it appropriate to rule on this matter without further briefing. This Court concludes the district court's order violates the Free Speech and Free Press Clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, because this is not the sort of exceptional case where a prior restraint on speech survives constitutional scrutiny.

Facts

[¶3] According to the materials submitted, Mr. Phillip Sam is charged as an adult with one count of first degree murder and twelve counts of aggravated assault. He was sixteen years old at the time of the offense, and it appears several of the witnesses set to testify at trial are juveniles.

[¶4] A hearing was held on August 6, 2015, concerning the question of media access to the trial, and Petitioner was invited to attend and be heard. That same day, Petitioner filed an objection to various restrictions of the proposed order. A day later, August 7, 2015, Petitioner was allowed to intervene for the limited purpose of being heard on its objection to the proposed order restricting the publication of names and photographs of witnesses who are minors.[1] On August 11, 2015, another hearing was held on Petitioner's objections.

[¶5] On August 12, 2015, the district court entered an " Order Concerning Media Access During Trial" that limited, inter alia, the identification of juvenile witnesses who testify during the trial in open court. It concluded that this measure was necessary because some of the juvenile witnesses had been the subject of threats. The district court's order states in pertinent part: " No one may . . . release the name of a juvenile witness during the trial." The " Petition for Writ of Review of Media Access Order and Request for Expedited Review" followed.

Standard of Review

[¶6] Constitutional challenges present issues of law that we review de novo. Operation Save Am. v. City of Jackson, 2012 WY 51, ¶ 17, 275 ...


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