Wednesday, March 07, 2007

FIRST AMENDMENT: Kansas City paper yanks story from website after court order



Judge's order blocks articles about BPU

The Star and The Pitch both prepared stories dealing with power plant upgrades.

The Kansas City Star

* Temporary restraining order by Judge Kelly Moorhouse

A judge barred The Kansas City Star on Friday from publishing an article based on a local utility.s confidential document addressing its power plant upgrades.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Kelly Moorhouse also ordered the newspaper and The Pitch newsweekly to remove articles from their Web sites Friday night.

The three-page order said that the Board of Public Utilities of Kansas City, Kan., would be .irreparably harmed. if the newspapers didn.t take down the articles. Moorhouse scheduled a hearing about the case for 9:30 a.m. next Friday.

An attorney for The Star was attempting Friday night to schedule an expedited hearing to have the order overturned. Mark Zieman, editor and vice president of The Star, said the public has the right to know about the operations of local utilities.

"To have a published story pulled from our Web site is unprecedented and unbelievable," said Zieman. "When justice prevails, we will publish our findings again."

Sam Colville, the newspaper's attorney, said the injunction violated the constitutional rights not only of the press but also of the people to be informed. "Every moment The Star is restrained constitutes further damage to the constitutional rights of each of us,. Colville said.

The document in question, which The Star received from an anonymous source, was prepared by Stanley Reigel, a Stinson Morrison Hecker attorney working for the BPU. According to the judge.s order, "monetary damages which might result from a publication of such information would be difficult or impossible to measure in money."

Both The Star and The Pitch posted articles about the confidential memo on their Web sites before the temporary restraining order was issued. The Star removed its report about 7:45 p.m. Friday.

Cases of prior restraint -- in which the government tries to prevent the publication of information -- are extremely rare. In Near v. Minnesota, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government attempts to censor the media are presumed unconstitutional.

Over the years, the court has repeatedly ruled that courts can try to prevent the dissemination of information only if it presents a "clear and present danger" or a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice.

To reach James Hart, call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to

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