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Injunction against reporter removed

Steve Andrews will no longer have to stay away from a man about whom he's been reporting.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002


TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers threw out an injunction Thursday that kept investigative television reporter Steve Andrews 300 feet from the subject of a series of his stories.

Two weeks ago, Myers granted the injunction at the request of Minh Ben Ross, a Tampa man whose multiple arrests have been featured in Andrews' news reports on WFLA-Ch. 8.

Ross, a cook, claimed Andrews stalked him and harassed him "with unwarranted questions."

At Thursday's hearing, Ross' lawyer, James Thomas, questioned Andrews for 30 minutes about his news gathering techniques and his brief contacts with Ross.

But the judge said Ross had not proven the newsman's conduct amounted to stalking.

"I'm glad it's over," Andrews said. "The whole thing was just ridiculous.

"It's a misuse of the law. We took up valuable space on a court docket. The taxpayers of Hillsborough County should be outraged these kind of shenanigans can be allowed to occur."

Gregg Thomas, Andrews' lawyer, said Myers' decision to throw out the injunction was a victory for the First Amendment, but that the injunction shouldn't have been granted in the first place.

"In a free society, reporters have to be able to ask penetrating questions of people involved in the criminal justice system," Thomas said.

Andrews has aired a series of stories about Ross' multiple DUI arrests, and how Hillsborough County Judge Elvin Martinez threw out key evidence against him at trial.

On Dec. 2, Andrews and a cameraman approached Ross outside the Hillsborough courthouse, but Ross refused to answer the reporter's questions. Later, Andrews approached Ross again, in the company of his lawyer, but the lawyer rebuffed him.

Ross didn't allege physical contact but claimed he was intimidated.

Calling Andrews to the stand Thursday, Ross' lawyer, Thomas, asked the reporter for details that included: How big was the microphone you used? How much did it weigh? How fast did you approach Ross?

"I'd like to know what speed," Thomas said. "Was it one mile per hour, two miles per hour?"

Judge Myers told the lawyer to move on.

The judge dismissed the injunction after Ross' lawyer presented his case. Andrews' lawyer did not even have to present a defense.

-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com .

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