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A Times Editorial

Judge's bad decision


© St. Petersburg Times
published December 12, 2002

In anything resembling a free society, the press has the right to air both sides of a story. It's a constitutional protection in America and an element of basic fairness -- two concepts that Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers apparently cannot grasp.

Myers slapped a restraining order on a Tampa television reporter when a subject in a news story claimed he was harassed. By the self-styled victim's own statement, made in seeking the protective order, the reporter did nothing unusual -- he "continuously asked me questions" outside the courthouse.

Any judge mindful of the First Amendment and the purpose of restraining orders would have laughed the petition aside. But Myers allowed his court to be used, brushing a reporter back from a story of public interest.

This is another example of sloppy legal reasoning from a judge who as a prosecutor misapplied the law in the Aisenberg missing-baby case. In that case, Myers sought court approval to bug the Aisenberg home, without ensuring first that his application met the required legal standard. That mistake -- bad lawyering -- was one reason the case fell apart. Then Myers tried to shift the blame, insisting the reckless prosecution was no big deal.

Myers shows the same thoughtlessness by using a law aimed at stalkers and wife-beaters to frustrate a free press. (We can almost see the politicians now, lining up for Myers' court.) The judge has the chance at a court hearing today to think the matter through, or even step aside, given all his baggage. Or he can add to the baggage by upholding his bad decision.

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