A judge in New York on Friday upheld his prior ruling barring The New York Times from publishing documents prepared by a lawyer for the right-wing group Project Veritas, which is suing the media organization for libel.
Judge Charles Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County sided with Project Veritas in his ruling made public Friday, ordering the publication to turn over any physical copies of the documents in question and delete any digital versions.
The restriction is functionally a prior restraint on the Times, a limit rarely applied to news organizations. It has provoked criticism from First Amendment advocates and a fiery editorial from the Times, which said it was a dangerous decision.
The Times has said it will seek a stay of the ruling and plans to appeal it.
"This ruling should raise alarms not just for advocates of press freedoms but for anyone concerned about the dangers of government overreach into what the public can and cannot know," Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger said in a statement.
"In defiance of law settled in the Pentagon Papers case, this judge has barred The Times from publishing information about a prominent and influential organization that was obtained legally in the ordinary course of reporting," he added.
The restriction on the Times stems from a libel suit filed against the newspaper in 2020.
The documents prepared by Project Veritas attorney Benjamin Barr before the libel case were quoted in a November article about a Justice Department investigation into the potential role of the group in the theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden, President Biden's daughter.
Project Veritas has argued that the content of Barr's memos, despite being prepared beforehand, was related to the legal issues in the case. Publishing reporting including the memos was an attempt to embarrass the paper's opponent in litigation, according to the James O'Keefe-led organization.
Wood had ordered last month that the Times temporarily stop disseminating the memos.
In the ruling unsealed Friday, Wood, who was first elected to the Supreme Court in 2009, determined that the documents were protected under attorney-client privilege.
"The Times is perfectly free to investigate, uncover, research, interview, photograph, record, report, publish, opine, expose or ignore whatever aspects of Project Veritas its editors in their sole discretion deem newsworthy, without utilizing Project Veritas's attorney-client privileged memoranda," he wrote.
O'Keefe in a statement lambasted The Times for publishing what he described as "disinformation" about Project Veritas.
"The Times is so blinded by its hatred of Project Veritas that everything it does results in a self-inflicted wound," O'Keefe added.
The organization has a long track record of using hidden cameras and deceptive techniques in attempts to embarrass liberal lawmakers and mainstream news organizations.
This story was updated at 12:18 p.m.