A New York trial court judge on Tuesday declined to lift an order that temporarily prohibits the New York Times from publishing or pursuing certain documents related to the conservative group Project Veritas. The judge said at a hearing that he needed additional time to consider arguments and asked for additional briefs next week.
The outcome of the hearing leaves in place, for now, an order that The Times and national First Amendment advocates have denounced as a highly unusual instance of a court's intruding on constitutional protections for journalists. Project Veritas has argued that the order does not amount to a major imposition.
Lawyers for The Times had hoped that their arguments would persuade the judge, Charles D. Wood of state Supreme Court in Westchester County, to lift the written order he issued last week.
"We're disappointed that the order remains in place, but we welcomed the opportunity to address the court directly on the serious First Amendment concerns raised by a prior restraint," Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The order is part of a libel lawsuit filed against The Times in 2020 by Project Veritas, whose leader, the provocateur James O'Keefe, often uses hidden cameras and fake identities to embarrass Democrats, labor groups and news outlets.
Project Veritas is under investigation by the Justice Department for its possible involvement in the theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden's daughter. The Times, which reported on the investigation, published a Nov. 11 article that excerpted memos, prepared by a Project Veritas lawyer, that examine the legality of the group's deceptive reporting practices.
Those memos predate the Times libel case by several years. But Project Veritas argued that the newspaper had violated its right to attorney-client privilege by publishing the memos, and accused the paper of trying to embarrass a legal opponent. Wood ordered The Times to stop disseminating the Project Veritas materials and "cease further efforts to solicit or acquire" those materials, effectively preventing further reporting by its journalists.
A lawyer for Project Veritas, Elizabeth Locke, said in a statement on Tuesday, "Like any other litigant, The New York Times may not use their opposing litigant's privileged attorney-client communications to harm their adversary's substantial rights — in this case, the right to freely and openly communicate with their attorney."
The judge asked Project Veritas on Tuesday to file another brief on Dec. 1. The Times is allowed to respond by Dec. 3.
Late last week, The Times asked a state appellate court to throw out Wood's order, a request that was denied.