A state appeals court said a judge’s order preventing publication of the documents would not be enforced until a formal appeal could be heard.
The New York Times is free to publish documents pertaining to the conservative group Project Veritas after a New York State appeals court temporarily stayed an order by a state trial judge that had been denounced by First Amendment advocates and journalism groups.
In a decision made public on Thursday, the appeals court said the order would not be enforced until a formal appeal could be heard. The decision means that, for now, The Times can publish certain documents and will not have to turn over or destroy any copies of the documents in its possession.
“We’re pleased with today’s decision to stop the enforcement of prior restraint while the case is being appealed, and we look forward to explaining our position in the appeal,” a Times spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said in a statement. “The use of prior restraint to prohibit news gathering and block the publication of newsworthy journalism is unconstitutional. No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them.”
The order by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court is part of a libel lawsuit filed in 2020 by Project Veritas and its leader, the conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, that accused The Times of defamation.
A lawyer for Project Veritas, Elizabeth Locke, said in a statement on Thursday: “We are pleased that the Appellate Division denied The Times’s overreaching request to vacate the order.” She added that she was “confident” that the appeals court would ultimately affirm “that The Times violated Veritas’s substantial rights by acquiring and publishing attorney-client privileged materials in the midst of ongoing litigation.”
In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr. O’Keefe said: “Defamation is not a First Amendment-protected right; publishing the other litigants’ attorney-client privileged documents is not a protected First Amendment right.”
Last year, in coverage unrelated to the lawsuit, The Times reported on an effort by the Justice Department to investigate Project Veritas for a possible role in stealing a diary that belonged to President Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden. In the course of reporting on that investigation, The Times published an article in November that included excerpts from memos prepared by a lawyer for Project Veritas, who described legal strategies that would allow the group to engage in deceptive reporting practices that did not violate federal law.
The memos predated the libel case against The Times by several years. But lawyers for Project Veritas accused The Times of intruding on its attorney-client privilege rights, arguing that the newspaper’s publication of the memos amounted to an effort to embarrass an opponent in active litigation.
An order in November by Justice Charles D. Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County ordered The Times to cease publication of any of the relevant Project Veritas documents. In December, the judge rejected The Times’s efforts to have the order thrown out. He also ordered The Times to immediately destroy any electronic copies of the documents and turn over its physical copies.
The newspaper and First Amendment advocates have argued that the order amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint of a journalistic outlet’s ability to report on the news.
Mr. O’Keefe and his Project Veritas colleagues came to prominence by using hidden cameras and false identities in videos intended to embarrass Democratic officials, news organizations and labor groups.
New York Times May Publish Documents About Project Veritas, Court Says – The New York Times