Anthony J. Sineni III, 52, of Standish sought to restrict media coverage of the case against him in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland and persuaded a judge to order the media not to report what he or any witnesses said in court.
Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz, the deputy chief of the state’s district court, told members of the media as the hearing began what they could and could not report.
A reporter for the Portland Press Herald protested the order and asked for time to contact legal counsel. Moskowitz denied the request and said the hearing would proceed without delay, declaring that anyone who did not agree to comply with his order to report only what the prosecutor and Sineni’s attorney said would be ejected from the courtroom.
How a judge arrived at the conclusion that he could violate the First Amendment rights of these reporters is unexplained. (Perhaps he’ll explain it during the special hearing he’s called for Wednesday, involving the paper and its lawyers.) It simply is. Sineni — facing charges related to a domestic violence case — asked and received. Except that his granted request was ultimately futile. The Portland Press Herald seems to have a better grasp on the First Amendment than Judge Moskowitz does.
An attorney for the Portland Press Herald, Sigmund Schutz, said Monday evening that the judge’s order to the media was a clear violation of the public’s First Amendment constitutional right of free speech.
“There is a 100 percent chance that the order is unlawful,” Schutz said. “I think there is no question that the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have been very clear, what occurs or is said in the court is a matter of public record.”
Sineni, however, appears to believe little things like the First Amendment don’t apply to him or his case. He also seems to feel laws of all types are for other people, according to testimony delivered by his ex-girlfriend (Winona Hichborn) — the same testimony the Press Herald was ordered not to report on.
“Tony (Sineni) told me before that he is above the law and that if he gets away with this they won’t be able to touch him,” Hichborn testified, flanked by her attorney and a victim-witness advocate.
So, it appears Sineni is every bit as wrong as Judge Moskowitz is. Sineni pled no contest but conceded there was enough evidence find him guilty on two of the charges. The law appears to be pulling level with Sineni’s cruising altitude. And the ruling issued by Moskowitz has been treated as though he had never bothered wasting his breath uttering the unlawful order in the first place. Good for the Press Herald, which had the insight and fortitude to call BS and do what it was supposed to be doing in the first place: reporting on events that occurred in a public forum.
And as for Sineni, he has hopefully learned that trying to shut people up only makes them speak more loudly — and that raised voice tends to create plenty of echoes. What would have just been a local interest story is now spreading nationally, and that won’t be doing any favors for Sineni’s reputation — or Judge Moskowitz’s.