TRENTON, N.J. – A judge has overturned an order preventing a newspaper from reporting on a child services complaint involving a kindergarten student who brought drugs to school twice.
Judge Lawrence De Bello ruled Monday that he found no evidence to support the state's argument that a reporter for the Trentonian newspaper illegally obtained the complaint from the boy's mother.
Government lawyers sought the injunction against the newspaper, saying child welfare complaints must be kept confidential under state law. The state had alleged that Trentonian reporter Isaac Avilucea stole the complaint from the mother, but he said she knew he was reporting on the story and gave it to him. She had met with him at his office earlier in the day.
The newspaper and open-government advocates argued that the previous order was a clear violation of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government cannot prevent the press from publishing information except in extreme circumstances involving a clear and present danger
A spokesman for the state attorney general's office says it is reviewing the decision.
Avilucea said the decision upholds the tenets of the First Amendment protecting the press and strikes at "what would have been a very dangerous precedent."
"It's been five months of sometimes what I felt like was persecution by the attorney general's office and even the threat of prosecution from them for basically doing my job," said Avilucea, who has been out of work on disability while battling testicular cancer. "The idea of criminalizing reporting is a sobering thought to not only myself but to journalists across New Jersey and across the U.S."
The boy has been placed into foster care pending an ongoing custody battle, and his father is facing charges.