Iowa Supreme Court blocks newspaper from publishing public information

By Jim Hagerty

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa Supreme Court justice issued a rare order that prohibits a daily newspaper from printing information in documents obtained from public court records.

The order was issued Dec. 11, by Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins. It bars the Des Moines Register from publishing what it pulled from the record about Jaysen McCleary, a lawyer who now lives out of state.

The paper had obtained hundreds of documents that contained mental-health and financial information about McCleary as part of a civil lawsuit he filed in circuit court. When the lawyer learned the paper planned to use the information in an article, he asked the court to seal it along with other documents about cases he was party to. He also sued reporter Clark Kauffman to block the article.

The paper claimed the documents were obtained legally, and that barring them and the article violates the First Amendment. A circuit court judge agreed, ruling that the records were publicly accessible when the paper obtained them. Wiggins reversed that decision three days later.

“Pending further order from this court, the defendants shall not disclose or share, other than with legal counsel, any information in the defendants’ possession that was obtained exclusively from the reports,” the justice wrote.

Michael Giudicessi, counsel for the Register, has asked the court to vacate the decision, arguing that the United States Supreme Court does not support a restraint on news media unless it is a matter of national security, time of war or another dire situation.

The documents became public record in July, when McCleary included them in a lawsuit he brought against the City of Des Moines. They remained unsealed until Nov. 16, a day after Kauffman communicated to McMcleary via email that the information he was using for the article was available to the public.

McCleary then brought a civil complaint against Kauffman and the Des Moines Register, claiming the paper and the reporter were attempting to defame him.

The Dec. 11 order is pending review by the full Iowa Supreme Court.

The Des Moines Register was founded in 1849 as the Iowa Star. It became the Register in 1915. Today, the it prints a morning Monday-Saturday edition with a circulation of 84,000 and 146,000 papers on Sunday. It also prints a state edition that serves the rest of Iowa.

The Register has won 16 Pulitzer Prizes. R.

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