WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (Reuters) – A New York trial judge on Tuesday extended a ban keeping the New York Times from publishing some materials concerning the conservative activist group Project Veritas, a restriction the newspaper said violated decades of First Amendment protections.
Justice Charles Wood of the Westchester County Supreme Court said his temporary ban imposed on Nov. 18 will run at least until Dec. 1, a deadline for Project Veritas to respond in writing to the Times’ bid to end it.
The judge granted the extension at a 1-3/4-hour hearing in White Plains, which was part of a defamation lawsuit that Project Veritas filed against the Times last year.
Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe, has used what critics view as deceptive tactics to expose what it describes as liberal media bias.
It has objected to a Nov. 11 Times article that drew from memos from a Project Veritas lawyer, and purported to reveal how the group worked with its lawyers to “gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.”
Wood said as the hearing began that the case involved a clash between two “bedrock principles” of law: “freedom of the speech and freedom of the press, and attorney-client privilege.”
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said the newspaper was disappointed but will press its First Amendment concerns. “No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them,” she said.
Project Veritas and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The group had been suing over a Sept. 2020 Times article describing a video it released that alleged voter fraud connected to the campaign of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat.
Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, has said Wood’s Nov. 18 order set a “dangerous precedent,” while the newspaper has said courts might find prior restraints acceptable only “rarely,” such as to protect national security.
Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer for the Times, told Wood a longer ban would have broad, negative ramifications for journalists.
“What Project Veritas is seeking here is not about the continued use of information within this litigation, but limiting what journalists report and do outside this litigation,” Kurtzberg said.
Libby Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, countered that the Times’ use of memos by the group’s lawyer Benjamin Barr “compromises the uninhibited, robust communication between a client and lawyer.”
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement called the extended ban “deeply troubling,” reflecting how prior restraints are “among the most grievous threats to the First Amendment.”
Project Veritas is also the subject of a Justice Department probe into its possible role in the theft of a diary from President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley, pages of which were published on National File, a right-wing website.
The Times had not faced any prior restraint since 1971, when the Nixon administration unsuccessfully sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
(Reporting by Helen Coster in White Plains, New York and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)