A federal appeals court on Saturday upheld an injunction barring Cable News Network from broadcasting tapes of Manuel Noriega's telephone conversations with his lawyers while in a federal jail.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also called on the Atlanta-based network to produce the seven tapes in U.S. District Court in Miami so the court could decide whether the broadcasts would endanger Noriega's right to a fair trial on drug-trafficking charges.The ruling came after CNN on Friday defied Judge William Hoeveler in Miami, broadcasting excerpts from the tapes minutes after the judge issued an order instructing the network not to do so.
The appeals panel denied CNN's appeal of Hoeveler's 10-day injunction against broadcasting excerpts of Noreiga's phone calls.
It called on the network to produce the tapes in Hoeveler's courtroom so that the trial judge can determine if Noriega's 6th amendment rights to a fair trial have been violated by the U.S. government and CNN.
"The First Amendment interests of the press and public will best be served by immediate production of the tapes held by CNN so that the district court can conduct the difficult balancing of constitutional rights," the appeals panel said.
The Justice Department on Saturday morning filed a brief with the appeals court, claiming the tapes could make it difficult to select an unbiased jury for Noriega's trial on drug trafficking charges.
Noriega's right to a fair trial and effective counsel also could be compromised if details of the defense strategy are revealed to prosecutors, the brief said.
"The government cannot at this point be more specific with respect to the possible harm that could flow from publication of the tapes because the government, like the district court, does not know the contents of the materials CNN has in its possession," the brief states.
On Friday, Hoeveler said he would hold CNN in contempt of court if it disregarded his order. But in an unusual interview with CNN outside the courtroom Friday night, the judge said he could not rule on contempt without a prosecutors' motion.
On Saturday afternoon, Noriega attorney Frank Rubino asked Hoeveler to find CNN in direct civil contempt and fine the network $300,000 for each time it had televised the tapes and each time it shows them in future.
Before Hoeveler could respond, CNN attorney Terry Beinstock asked the judge to disqualify himself, accusing the judge of revealing a personal bias against the network in the CNN interview on Friday night.
A tape CNN played Friday contained a brief conversation in Spanish between Noriega and attorney Frank Rubino's secretary, said to be acting as a translator for the English-speaking defense team.