An appeals court on Tuesday ruled the New York Times can maintain access to copies of legal memos belonging to conservative group Project Veritas for now, though the newspaper is still temporarily barred from publishing the materials in a case that has drawn the attention of advocates for freedom of the press.
The stay, issued by the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, is a partial win for the newspaper, which objected after a judge last week sided with Project Veritas in continuing the ban on the newspaper from publishing certain documents related to the organization. But the paper is still not allowed to publish the materials, upholding a key part of last week’s order from Justice Charles D. Wood of the state Supreme Court in Westchester County.
The Times did not seek an immediate lifting of that part of the order, instead asking for an expedited hearing.
“We are pleased that parts of an unconstitutional order have been stayed, and we look forward to having the Appellate Division fully vacate the Supreme Court’s order,” a Times spokesperson said.
Project Veritas has until Jan. 14 to file its response after the Appellate Division declined the paper’s request for another deadline, according to the Times.
According to the newspaper, Elizabeth Locke, a lawyer for Project Veritas, said Tuesday that the group “joined The Times in its very limited request to maintain the status quo to allow appellate review because the proper administration of justice is paramount to American democracy, the First Amendment and the press’s freedom under it.”
Project Veritas, founded in 2010 by James O’Keefe, is an organization that seeks to uncover wrongdoing and discredit mainstream media and liberal groups. Last week’s order arose from a 2020 libel suit Project Veritas filed against the New York Times regarding reporting about O’Keefe, accusing the newspaper of defamation. The documents of concern in this case, obtained by the Times, were prepared by attorney Benjamin Barr for Project Veritas before the lawsuit. But the materials are related to the group’s practices, which are the focus the libel suit.
Separate from the ongoing legal battle, the Justice Department also began investigating O’Keefe and his group for its potential involvement in the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary. Still, Wood argued last week that the materials did not have news value: “A client seeking advice from its counsel simply cannot be a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.”
Project Veritas argued the documents were improperly acquired and therefore a violation of attorney-client privilege. Wood sided with the group, asking the Times to destroy or return the documents in possession. The ruling amounts to prior restraint on the newspaper, an uncommon restriction on any publication and one that courts have been largely sympathetic to the press on, as it relates to the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The case has drawn the attention of First Amendment and journalism advocates. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has supported the New York Times in the Veritas litigation.