A New York trial judge ordered The New York Times to destroy all copies of memos Project Veritas says are protected by attorney-client privilege.
The order, signed by Justice Charles Wood of the State Supreme Court in Westchester County and dated Thursday, found the newspaper improperly obtained and published materials from the memos written by a lawyer for the conservative group that discuss methods of reporting by Project Veritas, which sued The New York Times in November 2020 for defamation.
The physical copies, Wood said, must be delivered to Project Veritas's counsel, and The New York Times was ordered not to use the memos from the group's counsel, Benjamin Barr, or any information obtained from them. If The New York Times does not comply, the judge told Project Veritas to notify the court by the end of January and warned the newspaper could face sanctions if it did not comply.
Christmas came early for our @dhillonlaw clients #projectveritas #jamesokeefe today! NY Trial court issued devastating opinion ruling that the @nytimes improperly obtained and published its litigation adversary’s non-waived privileged communications: pic.twitter.com/fdgxWiEjdM— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) December 24, 2021
A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, said the newspaper plans to appeal.
"This ruling should raise alarms not just for advocates of press freedoms but for anyone concerned about the dangers of government overreach into what the public can and cannot know," Sulzberger said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner.
UPDATE: APPEALS COURT ALLOWS NEW YORK TIMES TO TEMPORARILY HOLD ONTO PROJECT VERITAS MEMOS
"In defiance of law settled in the Pentagon Papers case, this judge has barred The Times from publishing information about a prominent and influential organization that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting," he added. "In addition to imposing this unconstitutional prior restraint, the judge has gone even further and ordered that we return this material, a ruling with no apparent precedent and one that could present obvious risks to exposing sources should it be allowed to stand. We are appealing immediately."
Project Veritas has been engaged in defamation litigation against The New York Times in Westchester County Supreme Court since last year. The defamation lawsuit focuses on The New York Times's portrayal of video reporting from Project Veritas that linked Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to alleged voter fraud.
The New York Times has also been at the forefront of reporting on recent FBI raids of multiple locations tied to the group, including the home of founder James O'Keefe, which it said was part of an investigation into the disappearance of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden, the youngest daughter of President Joe Biden. In reporting on these raids, The New York Times quoted memos written by Barr while discussing the group's "deceptive reporting practices."
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Although The New York Times argued the memos, which predate the lawsuit, were obtained through "newsgathering efforts" outside of the litigation process, Woods sided with Project Veritas and said his order is "no defeat for the First Amendment" and will "protect the integrity of the judicial process."
“Today’s ruling affirms that the New York Times’s behavior was irregular and outside the boundaries of law. The court’s thoughtful and well-researched opinion is a victory for the First Amendment for all journalists and affirms the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship," Elizabeth Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, said in a statement that also accused the newspaper of being “a vehicle for the prosecution of a partisan political agenda.”