Mandell Menkes recently represented a coalition of television companies, newspaper companies, and media industry organizations contesting a proposed gag order in a Wisconsin criminal matter. The State of Wisconsin sought a gag order prohibiting the parties and counsel from making statements to the media that would have the likelihood of materially prejudicing the criminal proceedings. The media coalition argued the proposed gag order was an unconstitutional prior restraint on the media’s First Amendment rights to receive protected speech from willing speakers and to generally gather the news. This was an issue of first impression in Wisconsin.
After almost two hours of oral argument, the Judge agreed with the media coalition, finding there were less restrictive means of dealing with pretrial publicity that do not directly impact the media’s First Amendment rights. Accordingly, the Judge denied the request for the gag order. The media coalition comprised Gray Television Group, Inc. (WSAW/WZAW in Wausau, WEAU in Eau Claire/La Crosse, and WMTV in Madison), Journal Sentinel Inc. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Lakeland Printing, Inc. (The Lakeland Times), Madison Newspapers Inc. (Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times), Quincy Media, Inc. (WAOW in Wausau, WQOW in Eau Claire, WKOW in Madison, and WXOW in La Crosse), Rockfleet Broadcasting/Northland Television, Inc. (WJFW in Rhinelander), Gannett Co., Inc.’s USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin (Wausau Daily Herald), the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.