SIERRA VISTA — Judicial candidate Roger Contreras has filed a notice of violation against the Herald/Review, claiming the newspaper defied a judge’s order when it published articles about a divorce and child custody case involving Contreras and his former spouse.
In the Monday notice and motion, Contreras states that he wants the newspaper and reporter Lyda Longa held in contempt for writing two articles in August regarding a judge’s order to have the case involving Contreras and his ex-wife Nancy Bourke sealed. Contreras is also demanding a retraction from the newspaper, claiming the articles were “defamatory” and contained “slander per se.”
Slander per se claims “involve categories of defamatory statements that are presumed to be damaging to the plaintiff,” such as “imputing criminal conduct to the plaintiff or any harmful statement about the plaintiff’s profession or business,” according to alllaw.com.
Typically libel laws, not slander, are used to determine if a published statement, such as a newspaper article, is defamatory.
In the notice/motion, Contreras asks Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael Peterson for a hearing that would compel the Herald/Review, Longa and David Morgan — publisher of the Cochise County Record — to appear and be held in contempt, among other things.
Contreras said in his notice/motion that Morgan published one of the Herald/Review articles on Morgan’s Facebook page, called “Cochise Courts, Crime, Jail & Justice.”
Peterson’s initial order, issued Aug. 9, states that nothing should be published about the divorce case or any of the parties, mainly to protect the minor child in the case.
In an amended order six days later, Peterson added that the “confidentiality and privacy interests of the parties, and specifically their minor child, outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Consistent with this determination, the Court orders that this family court matter is closed and confidential.”
The Herald/Review reached out to Peterson in August regarding his initial order. The judge responded in an email that, in part, said: “ ... I deeply respect the First Amendment and the importance of a free press. That notwithstanding, I have made a determination that the best interests of a small child are paramount and outweigh the publication to third parties of matters which were raised in this case.”
The newspaper also contacted Contreras, who declined comment.
First Amendment lawyer Daniel C. Barr told the Herald/Review in August that the judge’s orders were “overly broad.”
“One thing is to tell the parties in the case not to talk to the media, but the court can’t tell the newspaper what to write about. That would be prior restraint,” said Barr, a partner with the Phoenix-based law firm Perkins Coie and the general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.
Contreras, who is vying to become a Cochise County Superior Court judge in Division 5, is asking Peterson to also impose sanctions against Longa and Morgan for their contempt, as well as issue an order that would require Longa, the Herald/Review and Morgan not to disseminate information regarding the case.
Contreras is also requesting an order that would restore attorney’s fees to Contreras as the petitioner and Bourke as the respondent in their ongoing case.
Herald/Review Managing Editor Timothy J. Woods declined comment on Contreras’s motion because it is an ongoing legal matter. However, Woods backed his staff: “I will say that I stand by the work of all of our fine reporters, who daily cover matters thoroughly, objectively and without bias.”
Peterson’s judicial assistant Julie Spencer said the judge would have to review the case and await the responses of all affected by the notice/motion, before a hearing is scheduled.