Appeals court overturns “prior restraint” injunction in St. Lucie judge’s race

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On Wednesday, an appeals court in South Florida condemned a lower-court decision imposing a temporary injunction against a political group involved in an intense election for a St. Lucie County judgeship.

An Aug. 22 order issued from the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned the injunction, which prohibited “Concerned Citizens for Judicial Fairness Inc.” from managing a website or disseminating information in ways that disparaged St. Lucie County Judge Philip Yacucci.

As a follow-up of the order, the appeals court released a six-page opinion on Wednesday explaining its decision.

Yacucci filed a lawsuit during the campaign naming the group and Stephen Smith, his primary-election challenge, which alleged defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress because of material posted on the website, according to the ruling by the appeals-court.

Senior Judge George Shahood brought a temporary injunction against the group on Aug. 8.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, the appeals court ruled that the injunction constituted “prior restraint” on speech implicating the First Amendment.

According to the opinion by appeals-court Judge Robert Gross, joined by judges Martha Warner and Melanie May:

“To allow a temporary injunction such as this one to stand would be to make courts into censors, deciding what candidates can and cannot say … The political process should not be subject to the whims of a local judge who may favor one candidate over another.”

Smith lost to Yacucci in the Aug. 26 primaries.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.