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Judge’s Ruling Forbids the Pitch From Publishing BPU Article

The rare decision forced the Pitch and The Kansas City Star to remove articles about the utility.

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A judge’s ruling on Friday ordered the Pitch to remove from this Web site an article about the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities. The article was based on a confidential letter written to BPU officials by the BPU’s attorney, Stanley Reigel of the law firm Stinson, Morrison Hecker. The letter concerned issues about BPU power plants.

The BPU sought the injunction against the paper after the Pitch called BPU officials to ask about the document Friday morning. In an e-mail, BPU spokeswoman Susan Allen wrote: “BPU cannot comment on a BPU confidential report. The Pitch should be aware that it possesses a confidential, legally protected document. The document should be returned to BPU.”

The Pitch declined to return the document, because the newspaper had not obtained it illegally, and proceeded to post a story online Friday afternoon. After the Pitch published its story, The Kansas City Star published a similar article.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Kelly Moorhouse affects both papers. Moorhouse determined that the BPU would be “irreparably harmed” if the stories remained on the newspapers’ Web sites and barred the papers from publishing information contained in the confidential document, copying it or “otherwise referring to it in any public medium.”

An attorney for the Pitch has urged the court to give the newspapers an emergency hearing on Monday, March 5. The Star reported in an article Saturday that its attorney is also seeking an emergency hearing.

“This judge made a serious error. The injunction so clearly violates the First Amendment that we have no choice but to fight for these fundamental principles in the appellate courts,” said Steve Suskin, legal counsel for Village Voice Media, the Pitch’s parent company.

“The ruling doesn’t just threaten the freedom of the press, it hurts the people of Kansas City,” added Pitch editor C.J. Janovy. “They deserve some answers. Moorhouse’s ruling clearly goes against the public interest.”

It’s rare for a judge to prevent the media from publishing an article. Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association, said that judges who don’t often deal in media law occasionally issue rulings preventing the publication of an article, but those rulings are overturned on appeal. “I am astounded that the court would impose a blackout on these stories,” Maneke told the Pitch on Saturday. She predicts the ruling will be overturned when it’s heard by an appellate court.

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