Washington Law Review


During a prosecution for attempted murder, the trial judge determined that detailed reporting of the pretrial suppression hearing would jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial. Judge Swedberg therefore conditioned the media's attendance on their agreement to abide by the 1974 Washington State Bench-Bar-Press Guidelines. Federated Publications, publisher of the Bellingham Herald, refused to sign the agreement and refused to allow its reporters to attend solely in a nonprofessional capacity. It argued that conditioning media attendance on compliance with the Bench-Bar-Press Guidelines constituted a prior restraint and that the trial judge exceeded his power by excluding nonsigning media representatives. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the order was a permissible access restriction. This Note first examines the legal background of the doctrine of prior restraint, access to the courtroom, and the development of the Bench-Bar-Press Guidelines. It argues that the Washington Supreme Court erroneously characterized the trial court's order as an access restriction instead of a prior restraint. Finally, this Note proposes an alternative approach for situations where the trial court faces a substantial likelihood of prejudicial publicity. This alternative approach suggests that procedural safeguards should be exhausted before the trial court imposes any access restrictions.

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