A court hearing is scheduled Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times’ opposition to a federal judge’s order requiring the newspaper to remove information from an article that described a plea agreement between prosecutors and a Glendale police detective accused of working with the Mexican Mafia.
The agreement between prosecutors and detective John Saro Balian was supposed to have been filed under seal, but it was mistakenly made available Friday on PACER, a public online database for federal court documents.
Responding to the order from U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, Times editors revised the article after it was posted Saturday to eliminate information about the sealed document, but vowed to contest the ruling.
“We believe that once material is in the public record, it is proper and appropriate to publish it if it is newsworthy,” Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine said.
Documents lodged Monday in federal court in Los Angeles by both the newspaper and the government, outlining their positions regarding the judge’s order, were filed under seal.
Kelli Sager, an attorney representing The Times, said Saturday that the First Amendment includes a strong presumption against government actions that prevent someone from speaking or publishing information.
“Typically, courts take into account if information was already published. Where it is no longer secret, the point of the restraining order is mooted,” Sager said. “To order a publication to claw it back doesn’t even serve the interest that may be intended.”
After The Times article by reporter Alene Tchekmedyian giving details of the plea agreement was posted Saturday, Balian’s attorney sought a temporary restraining order, which Walter granted Saturday afternoon.
Balian pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts: lying to federal investigators about his links to organized crime, accepting a bribe and obstructing justice by tipping off a top criminal target about an upcoming federal raid.
When Balian was arrested in May, federal prosecutors said the detective — who was previously placed on unpaid leave from the department — made false statements while being questioned by investigators about suspected ties to the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime and lied about his ties to gang member Jose Loza, described as a Mexican Mafia member and shot caller for the Canta Ranas street gang.
Loza, who is facing federal racketeering charges, communicated with Balian, who used a so-called burner phone to discuss criminal activities, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Balian took money from an informant and had “relationships with several Hispanic gang members.”
Balian not only knew Hispanic gang members, including Loza, he also texted them, provided them pre-paid cellular phones, and met with them in person, prosecutors said.
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