By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Putting Hopkins in her place

As I had hoped, Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge Andrew Grainger used some pretty strong language in explaining why he overturned Superior Court Judge Merita Hopkins’ prior-restraint order against WHDH-TV (Channel 7). The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam quotes from Grainger’s opinion:

As the judge noted in her order, the injunction is without doubt a prior restraint on speech.

[Channel 7] does not argue that it should be granted official access to the autopsy records; rather, it seeks to broadcast information already in its possession.

Simply put, the inability of the press to require the government to disclose information that is not part of the public record does not support a restraint on speech with respect to information already known to the press.

Indeed and famously, the presumption against prior restraints on free speech has prevailed even when the materials at issue are stolen and deal with issues of national security.

Grainger goes on to observe that, in this particular case, Hopkins’ error was compounded by the fact that her order didn’t even accomplish its objective — as it turned out, Channel 7, which had an exclusive, wound up being the only news organization not to report on the autopsy results.

Grainger’s tough words should stand as a warning to any judge who’s thinking of emulating Hopkins. It’s not enough that she has been overturned. It’s crucial that judges not abuse their power to hold up a story for a day or so and then punt to a higher court. If Hopkins isn’t embarrassed, she ought to be.

In the Boston Globe, columnists Joan Vennochi and Kevin Cullen weigh in. Cullen, joining those of us who believe Hopkins should have recused herself, observes that Hopkins hasn’t always been as solicitous of privacy rights as she was with respect to the fallen firefighters.

And, believe it or not, he brings it all back to Whitey Bulger. Boston is indeed a small town.

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  1. Anonymous

    Wow, a Boston FBI agent who reported to her husband? Who could have foreseen sleazy behavior? (And she got to be a judge in the first place, how?)

  2. Harry

    Boston is indeed a small townYes, and with a small population, too.

  3. amusedbutinformedobserver

    The morning the story broke, WRKO’s Tom Finneran and Wendy “Turning Crime Victims into a Profit Center” Murphy went on and on and on urging prior restraint — and misusing an SJC case to do it. That was almost as bad as McPhee the Herald’s resident cop sycophant braying about how it’s okay to give the hero treatment to someone who put the public and his own colleagues at risk by going to work in a public safety job while stewed to the gills. The firefighters union, however, did a great job mobilizing its membership to make phone calls to talk programs, sometimes calling themselves firefighters and sometimes posing as just average people.The attempts at prior restraint aside, the most appalling part of this is the lack of scrutiny that every firefighter and officer in that firehouse is receiving for LETTING someone respond to a public safety emergency for being drunk. Who was the officer on the truck the drunk rolled on? Why hasn’t he been suspended? Who is the captain of the firehouse? Why hasn’t he been suspended? Who is the district chief? Why hasn’t he been suspended? Who is the deputy chief for that side of the city? Why hasn’t he been suspended? Why in all the babble about “following orders in a paramilitary organization” isn’t the chain of command being held responsible for a specific incident?The press has dutifully followed the oh-woe stories about “substance abuse” in the fire department and the need to “confront” the problem. Swell. But there has been an absolutely appalling lack of interest on the part of the media in pursuing why supervisors on whose watch this happened in this paramilitary organization aren’t being suspended, busted or fired. We’ve gone to trend stories before the incident is even fully reported. But that’s the problem with “veteran police reporters,” most of whom are scared to death to bite the hand that feeds them.

  4. Anonymous

    Dan:Just FYI, Channel 7 may have wanted to believe it had an exclusive on the toxicology results, but it wasn’t even close. By mid-morning on the day of the hearing, newsrooms at the Herald and Globe — and presumably elsewhere — were already abuzz with the details.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 3:38: Yes, I’ve heard that, too. What we’ll never know is if Channel 7 could have gotten this out before everyone else, even by 10 minutes, if it weren’t for Judge Hopkins’ order.

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