Attorneys for The Orange County Register and Associated Press will ask an Orange County Superior Court judge Tuesday to allow them access to a search warrant filed in a case against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and raping several women.
The issue came to a head last week when Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is running against Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, handed out copies of a search warrant in the case to various members of the media.
When prosecutors and defense attorneys learned of it they complained to Orange County Superior Court Judge Greg Jones, who is presiding over the case against surgeon Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley.
Jones asked reporters for The Register, Associated Press and other outlets to hand back the document.
Attorneys for the news organizations on Friday filed a motion to lift Jones’ order to not disseminate information from the search warrant. The attorneys argue the order is a “presumptively unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.”
The attorneys note the search warrant was public for eight months before being sealed on Sept. 18. Reporters from other news organizations which obtained copies of the warrant before it was sealed were also asked to turn the documents back in and not report information in it, the attorneys argue in the motion.
Spitzer released copies of the search warrant that he redacted in parts to make his case that prosecutors sat on evidence in the case for too long while the suspects remained free. Spitzer also wanted to rebut Rackauckas’ claim that he had only learned of the case within a couple of weeks of his office filing charges.
Spitzer said he “completely agrees” with the media organizations’ argument.
“You can’t take something away from a journalist that was given to them as a public record,” Spitzer said. “There is absolutely no argument from anybody on either sides that is saying this document was sealed when it was secured by me and other journalists.
“It was in the court file for up to eight months as a public record so the judge is going to be very hard-pressed to not grant the media’s request to give them back copies of the warrant.”
Under state law, officials “can’t seal warrants without an absolute showing of using the least means available to keep information from the public, and the reason for that law is the public has a right to know … that law enforcement is properly using the awesome power of going into someone’s home,” Spitzer said.
UC Irvine law professor Henry Weinstein told City News Service last week that a judge cannot seal a document that has already been obtained when it was public and written about.
“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Weinstein said. “The whole idea of, first of all, sealing something that has been written about is absurd and it is contradictory to 1st Amendment principles in this country.”