Pushing around the press

The SE Texas Record Apr. 15, 2007, 11:00pm

Plaintiff's lawyer Brent Coon thinks the multi-million dollar lawsuits he pursues in our county courts aren't newsworthy. We disagree, and because we do, he wants our news reporters hauled before a judicial tribunal.

That's the gist of an unthinkable series of events currently in progress at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

With a straight face last Friday, in a place called Beaumont--not North Korea or Venezuela-- Coon asked Judge Donald Floyd to detain two veteran Southeast Texas journalists. He begged Floyd to muzzle them.

"Call both (reporters) to the stand and interrogate them," Coon wrote.

Their crime? Writing stories about civil lawsuits. They had the nerve to report on public filings and goings-on at our local courthouse.

That's just too much sunlight for Mr. Coon, who apparently prefers being left alone, suing and settling in the shadows. Coon is offended that one would dare report the results of his cases without flattering him, or asking his permission.

It's sad we have to argue that we don't need it.

Civil litigation hasn't traditionally received the same treatment from local media as more salacious criminal prosecutions. We started the Southeast Texas Record because we believe it should.

And given the thousands of local readers who already frequent our web site or pick up our print edition after just three weeks of existence, it's safe to say we're not the only ones.

It's easy to laugh off Mr. Coon's campaign to suspend the First Amendment in Southeast Texas as mere grandstanding. His charge that our reporters were "jury tampering" because they dared write stories that don't patronize him is preposterous. But the people of Jefferson County should take Coon's threats and tactics to harass and silence our local press seriously.

In a functioning democracy, free speech helps the people play government watchdog. No man, however rich, powerful or politically-connected, can claim the right to control or dictate what the press says about him and his public activities.

Alas, our readers deserve this solemn promise. In the face of obstructionists determined to block access to the courthouse; of powers-that-be angling to keep our civil justice system like a secret, we'll continue seeking truth in Southeast Texas. We won't be intimidated.

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