Superior Court Judge Hilleri J. Merritt committed "an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech" violating the First Amendment when she blocked the L.A. Times from publishing a courtroom photo of a murder defendant, the state Court of Appeal ruled today. But Judge Merritt probably knew that she issued her order, which the odd effect of barring the Times from running a photo of a guy whose picture had already been in the media. Merritt vacated her order today after being overruled, and the Times is free to publish if it chooses. Kelli Sager, the attorney who represented The Times, had argued that neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the California Court of Appeal had ever upheld a prior restraint even when faced with compelling issues such as national security, or a competing interest such as the right to a fair trial.
And on the subject of a free press: The county's controversial investigation into who leaked information on child welfare is a topic on tonight's "Which Way, L.A." at 7 p.m. on KCRW. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Terry Francke of Californians Aware and Times reporter Garrett Therolf guest.