Last week I described how District Judge Curtis Sigur issued a broad temporary restraining order at the behest of attorney David Groner imposing clearly unconstitutional prior restraint on the Daily Iberian of New Iberia, Louisiana.
This is not a story where the facts, as they come out, show that everyone overreacted. This is a case where the facts are even worse than initially reported.
Groner sued the Daily Iberian over an anonymous reader comment in its forum. That comment read as follows:
I read the paper where David Groner is representing Deputy Sanders Butler in the sexual harassment. The only thing you need to know is that Butler helped Groner in his failed bid for State Senator against Fred Mills and Simone Champagne. That's when the truth came out about Groner having a reputation for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.
Now, the anonymous commenter offered no proof that Mr. Groner has a reputation for such conduct. However, he or she did leave a link to a Louisiana Supreme Court order reflecting that the state bar conducted an "investigation into allegations that [David Groner]engaged in a conflict of interest and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation." That investigation, the order shows, concluded with a stipulated order suspending Groner's license for a year but deferring that suspension — suspending the suspension, in effect — while Groner completed probation.
Perhaps Groner seeks to prove that while he was accused of and investigated for dishonesty, fraud, and misrepresentation, he does not have a reputation for it. That would be an extremely difficult defamation claim. Under the "substantial truth" doctrine — sometimes called the "gist" or "sting" doctrine — a statement is not defamation if the main harmful thrust of it is true.
So how did David Groner get a temporary restraining order that amounts to clearly unconstitutional prior restraint? Apparently, he did it by abusing a broken system and going to an oddly docile District Judge Curtis Sigur.
The Daily Iberian has filed a motion to dissolve the TRO, in which it tells the tale. David Groner got his order by chicanery. Despite the fact that Groner was communicating with the Daily Iberian by email, he did not give them notice that he was running to court to seek a restraining order against them, did not give them a copy of his papers, and did not post the bond required by law (a sum of money posted to cover any damage caused by a restraining order). In response, Judge Sigur issued a broad order forbidding the Daily Iberian from accusing David Groner of bad behavior:
IT IS ORDERED THAT a Temporary Restraining Order be issued immediately, without bond and without prior notice, and then a preliminary and in due course, a permanent injunction be issued after hearing, restraining WICK COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY d/b/a The Daily Iberian and www.lberianet.com from publishing or posting on its website any article or story in which 'plaintiff, DA VID W. GRONER, is accused of dishonesty, fraud or deceit in connection with a Louisiana Supreme Court decision or similar matter.
Notice that the language of that order doesn't just address the one specific comment. It forbids the Daily Iberian from writing those negative things about Groner whatever other evidence or factual basis it might have.
So. To sum up, attorney David Groner has sought, and District Judge Curtis Sigur has granted:
Both the procedure and substance of this order were rotten to the core. The order is shockingly unlawful. It warrants an inquiry by Louisiana's judiciary commission. The Daily Iberian should continue its efforts to overturn the order, and both David Groner and Judge Curtis Sigur should suffer the public consequences of their conduct.
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