3rd Circuit takes gag off police-radar lawsuit

By The Associated Press
08.26.05

PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court has thrown out a gag order imposed in a case that questioned the accuracy of state police radar guns.

The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court, which issued the gag order in December, erred in adopting the measure.

The gag order was imposed after the Philadelphia Daily News obtained hundreds of pages of internal memos released as part of a civil lawsuit by former state police radar expert John T. Shingara. He alleged that his job was threatened after he testified in a court case that a widely used radar gun is prone to false readings.

Citing those internal memos, the newspaper reported that state police officials said they were aware of complaints about false readings but thought a recall for repairs would harm the agency's reputation and cause thousands of irate motorists to challenge speeding tickets.

In issuing the gag order, U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo cited the possibility the jury pool could be tainted. The order prohibited either side from releasing any information to the news media without both sides' agreeing or without her permission.

Lawyers for the Daily News appealed, and on Aug. 24 the higher court said Rambo had misinterpreted its previous directions on gag orders and the public's interest outweighed the state police desire for privacy.

Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Jack Lewis refused to comment on the decision. Attorney General Tom Corbett has not decided whether to appeal the ruling, spokesman Nils Frederiksen said.

Don Bailey, Shingara's attorney, said the appeals court ruling was "an important contribution to our nation's commitment to a free press."