A New York judge on Thursday ordered the New York Times to appear in court next week and defend publishing legal documents from Project Veritas and, in the meantime, stop publishing the privileged materials.
Justice Charles Wood said he may order the paper to remove all references to or descriptions to Project Veritas’s privileged attorney-client information and to return and/or immediately delete all copies of the privileged materials in the paper’s possession, unless he was convinced otherwise.
The paper or its lawyers were told to appear in New York Supreme Court for Westchester County on Nov. 23.
The New York Times recently published documents online that the paper said were from Project Veritas. The paper later took them down but a story describing them is still available on its website. Project Veritas lawyers say the documents were obtained improperly and their publication was not authorized by the group.
Complicating matters, Project Veritas is engaged in litigation against the paper—over articles that were deceptive because they contained the opinions of the bylined writers, Wood ruled in March.
The paper successfully got a stay in discovery as it appeals the decision.
Project Veritas lawyers called the paper’s acquiring of the privileged materials “a shocking display of unscrupulous gamesmanship.
“The lack of any justification for The Times’ conduct betrays it for what it is: a bare and vindictive attempt to harm and embarrass a litigation adversary by completely disregarding the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship,” they told the court.
“We are troubled that the Times would publish and disseminate attorney-client privileged materials, written by a lawyer who is counsel of record in Project Veritas’ ongoing litigation against The Times, that were obviously stolen and provided to the Times without Project Veritas’ consent,” a lawyer wrote to New York Times lawyers.
The source of the documents was not identified in the filing, in the paper’s stories, or in an email reporter Adam Goldman sent Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe shortly before it published the files.
The documents include memos containing advice from lawyer Benjamin Barr as to how Project Veritas could avoid running afoul of legal problems when it conducts its reporting, which largely hinges on reporters going undercover.
Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer for the paper, said in a filing that Project Veritas was asserting without evidence that the New York Times obtained the files improperly. He said that Project Veritas was seeking the “extraordinary remedy of prior restraint,” or the pre-publication suppression of certain material, which he argued was an infringement on the paper’s First Amendment rights.
Elizabeth Locke, a lawyer representing Project Veritas, told The Epoch Times in an email that the order didn’t fit that definition, since the material in question was already made public.
“The interim order and more permanent relief sought are narrowly tailored to that misconduct. Moreover, even if this were a prior restraint (it is not), there are certain circumstances where the law permits a court to enjoin the publication of materials before it happens—including, for example, by a protective order in litigation between litigants to prevent the use and dissemination of attorney-client protected materials,” she said.
Spokespersons for the New York Times did not respond to requests for comment. One told a reporter for the paper that the publication of the memos themselves was inadvertent and that the documents were taken down “after editors discovered the mistake.”
Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, said Wood’s Thursday ruling to show cause was “unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent.
“When a court silences journalism, it fails its citizens and undermines their right to know. The Supreme Court made that clear in the Pentagon Papers case, a landmark ruling against prior restraint blocking the publication of newsworthy journalism. That principle clearly applies here. We are seeking an immediate review of this decision,” he said in a statement to news outlets.
The legal battle caps off a series of events that started earlier this month when FBI agents raided Project Veritas-linked homes. The New York Times was the first to report on the raids, and Project Veritas has accused the paper of receiving leaks from the FBI. The bureau has not returned requests for comment.
A search warrant says law enforcement had reason to believe Project Veritas was involved in a conspiracy to possess stolen goods and transport them across state lines. The goods were described as property obtained from Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden’s daughter.
Project Veritas says it acquired a diary last year said to be Ashley Biden’s from two people not affiliated with the group but ultimately decided against publishing it because it could not confirm its authenticity. The group says it provided the diary to local law enforcement in Florida.
The raids were widely condemned as violating the First Amendment.
Project Veritas asked the court to appoint a special master, or a retired judge to protect privileged material. The request was granted last week.