In an unusual written ruling, Westchester County Supreme Court Judge Charles Wood ordered the New York Times to return to Project Veritas any physical copy of the legal notes prepared by one of the group’s attorneys and to destroy the electronic versions.
Wood had entered a temporary order against the New York Times last month, sparking criticism from press freedom advocates.
Project Veritas, directed by James O’Keefe, has used what critics call deceptive tactics such as secret audio recording to expose what it describes as the bias of the liberal media. The group is being investigated by the Justice Department over its possible role in the theft of a newspaper from President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley, pages of which were published on a right-wing website.
Wood said in Friday’s ruling that the legal notes of Project Veritas were not a matter of public interest and that the group has the right to keep them private which outweighs concerns about press freedom.
“Constant fidelity and vigilance in the protection of First Amendment liberties cannot be allowed to override the fundamental protections of lawyer and client privilege or the basic right to privacy,” Wood wrote.
AG Sulzberger, editor of the New York Times, said the newspaper would appeal the ruling.
Sulzberger said the decision prevented the Times from publishing relevant information that had been legally obtained in the normal course of information.
“In addition to imposing this prior unconstitutional restriction, the judge has gone even further (and) ordered that we return this material, a seemingly unprecedented ruling and that could pose obvious risks to exposing the sources if allowed to remain.” . said Sulzberger.
Libby Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, said in a statement that the New York Times’ behavior was “irregular” and that the ruling confirms that view.
“The New York Times has long forgotten the significance of journalism that it claims to adopt, and instead has become a vehicle for the pursuit of a partisan political agenda,” Locke said.
Project Veritas has been involved in a defamation lawsuit against the New York Times since last year, when the newspaper published an article calling the group’s work “misleading.”
The Times had not faced any prior restrictions since 1971, when the Nixon administration tried unsuccessfully to block the publication of Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
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