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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:After an explosion at BP plc’s Texas City plant in March 2005, about 4,000 individuals filed cases against BP and others. The explosion and the cases received much publicity on the local and national levels. Among other things, this publicity included news reports, television interviews, mailings sent to local residents, town hall meetings with BP employees and Chamber of Commerce meetings. In August 2007, a group of plaintiffs went to trial on their claims. Because of the pretrial publicity, the trial court called more than 1,200 people to report to jury duty to ensure that a jury and several alternates could be empaneled. This jury heard 10 days of evidence from the plaintiffs before the trial court announced that the parties had reached a settlement. After the trial ended, the trial court permitted the lawyers for each side to meet with the jurors, who had some positive things to tell each side’s lawyers. With approximately 1,200 cases still pending, however, the trial court was concerned about additional pretrial publicity interfering with the parties’ rights to a fair trial by making the task of selecting future juries even more difficult, particularly because the jurors had not heard all the evidence. Therefore, the trial court admonished the jurors, “I am going to forbid you from speaking to anybody in the media or anybody other than myself or the lawyers or their employees until after all cases have settled.” Two days later, Hearst News, on behalf of the Houston Chronicle, intervened, requesting the trial court to reconsider and rescind the gag order on the jurors. Soon thereafter, The Galveston County Daily News also intervened. Hearst News argued that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint under both Art. I, �8 of the Texas Constitution and the First Amendment. The trial court promptly held a hearing, affording all parties and the newspapers an opportunity to be heard. No evidence was adduced at this hearing. However, the trial court described the unusual nature of the litigation, including the large number of parties and the extensive pretrial publicity, remarking: “It costs a tremendous amount of money to the taxpayer to bring in the kind of panel you have to get down to just twelve impartial people in this case.” Thus, the trial court declined to rescind the gag order but instead signed a written order limiting the time period of the restriction on the jurors’ speech. HOLDING:The court conditionally granted the petition for writ of mandamus. The First Amendment provides, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Similarly, the court stated, the Texas Constitution, affirmatively grants the rights to freedom of speech and of the press: “Every person shall be at liberty to speak, write or publish his opinions on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that privilege. . . .” In Texas, pre-speech sanctions or “prior restraints” are presumptively unconstitutional. A prior restraint in a civil case, the court stated, will withstand constitutional scrutiny only where there are specific findings supported by evidence that an imminent and irreparable harm to the judicial process will deprive litigants of a just resolution of their dispute; and the judicial action represents the least restrictive means to prevent that harm. News organizations, the court stated, may receive, investigate and report on public trial proceedings, but they generally have no right to information not available to the public generally. A court cannot restrict the journalistic right to gather news, the court stated, unless it is narrowly tailored to prevent a substantial threat to the administration of justice. The court concluded that the right to gather news generally includes the right of the press to interview willing, discharged jurors, except when outweighed by a compelling government interest, such as the need to protect the sanctity of jury deliberations, a juror’s right to privacy and to be free from harassment, or a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. The trial court, the court noted, restricted the discharged jurors’ right to speak to “the press, media, or others,” because it concluded that the additional, incremental publicity would cause imminent and irreparable harm to the judicial process by making it even more difficult to empanel a jury. But no findings or evidence showed that the additional, incremental publicity from juror interviews would cause imminent and irreparable harm to the judicial process. Because the record did not show that interviews of the discharged jurors would preclude the selection of an impartial jury or that measures less restrictive than a gag order would be ineffective, the court found the gag order to be unconstitutional. OPINION:Alcala, J.; Radack, C.J., and Alcala and Higley, JJ.

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