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Judge lifts controversial order requiring the L.A. Times to alter article about ex-Glendale cop

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 7/17/2018 Victoria Kim

A federal judge Tuesday lifted a controversial order requiring the Los Angeles Times to remove information in an article about a former Glendale police detective accused of working with the Mexican Mafia.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter had issued the order Saturday after The Times published information on its website about a plea agreement between prosecutors and the former detective. The agreement had been sealed by the court but was placed in a court database of documents accessible to the public.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, Walter said he was initially unsure whether the newspaper had legally obtained access to the agreement but after conducting an investigation concluded the document was posted on the court’s database as the result of a clerical error.

He said he had acted over the weekend out of concern for the former detective’s safety.

“I’m concerned about somebody’s life. And if I err, I’m going to err on the side of protecting this defendant,” he said.

He added: “I’ve always been a strong proponent of the 1st Amendment and believe in public access to this courtroom.”

The Times complied with Walter’s order but challenged it. The newspaper also sought review Sunday night in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: John Saro Balian, shown in 2006, after he became a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department. Prosecutors this week charged Balian with one count of making false statements to federal investigators, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. © Times Community News John Saro Balian, shown in 2006, after he became a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department. Prosecutors this week charged Balian with one count of making false statements to federal investigators, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

On behalf of 59 media organizations, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a petition before the 9th Circuit late Monday proposing to file a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of The Times.

Those supporting The Times include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, the major network news broadcasters and other prominent media throughout the nation.

Constitutional scholars who have followed the case said it was rare for a judge to issue the kind of order that Walter handed down. They also said the news media cannot lawfully be ordered to excise information they have lawfully obtained and published except in exceptional circumstances.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @vicjkim

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