In addition to subscription drops, ridiculously wasteful advertising schemes, constant management blunders and savage cuts to the newsroom budget, The Orange County Register is battling a wage-and-hour class-action lawsuit filed by the good folks who deliver the newspaper to homes and businesses each morning. Those carriers claim the Register improperly classified them as independent contractors to avoid providing meal breaks, overtime pay, minimum wage and other benefits. I'm not here to take a side--haven't read the briefs in the case or conducted a single interview.
But there's one part of the case that can't be ignored. This month, Orange County Superior Court Judge David C. Velasquez handed a bizarre gift to Daniel J. Callahan, the carriers' cagey lawyer. Callahan (pictured above) sought to block the Register from reporting "on anything" relating to the case, on any of the attorneys in the case, on the Register's messy finances and on economic difficulties facing the "newspaper industry as a whole."
Velasquez (perhaps thinking he was in Mao's Communist China) approved Callahan's proposed order.
With the help of Davis Wright Tremaine--one of the premier First Amendment law firms in the nation, the Register won a quick, slam-dunk reversal yesterday from a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana.
According to a three-member panel, Velasquez--a former prosecutor--issued an unconstitutional order.
Prohibiting a news organization from publishing is the "most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights," the justices wrote. "Such an order is a most extraordinary remedy that may be used only in exceptional cases . . . where the evil that would result from the reportage is both great and certain and cannot be militated by less intrusive measures. The United States Supreme Court has offered two examples of the sort of exceptional situations in which a prior restraint might be justified: to prevent the dissemination of information about troop movements during wartime or to suppress information that would set in motion a nuclear holocaust."
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I'm going to venture a guess that the Register case has nothing to do with troop movements or igniting a nuclear holocaust.
The panel ordered Velasquez to vacate his mind-numbingly laughable order.
But questions remain: What in the hell was Velasquez--a supervising judge, no less!--thinking? Is Velasquez buddies with Callahan, an incredibly well-connected power player? Can the Register get a fair trial with the now-tainted Velasquez on the case?
-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly