Arizona paper wins battle over publishing sex-harassment story

Thursday, October 1, 1998

The Arizona Daily Star won a court battle against the Tucson Unified School District this week, enabling the newspaper to publish details of a year-old sexual harassment settlement between the district and a longtime school employee.

Last week, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee lifted the temporary restraining order he issued on Sept. 16 suppressing publication of the story. On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals declined to grant the school district's request to keep the information secret.

Immediately after the decision, the Daily Star posted an article on its Web site alleging that the school district failed to investigate sexual harassment charges against administrator Edward Arriaga.

According to the article, the school board quickly settled an employee's claim against Arriaga in May 1997 after learning that the worker was the second woman to complain about him. The district's failure to investigate the allegations, the paper reported, violated state and federal laws.

The school district filed its lawsuit against the newspaper after school board members learned a reporter had received an anonymous package in the mail concerning the settlement. Attorneys for the district said the information should be kept secret because it was protected by attorney-client privilege.

Bobbie Jo Buel, managing editor for the Daily Star, said the board's threats of lawsuits didn't initially faze the newspaper.

“Our attitude was, frankly, 'Yeah, go ahead,'” Buel said. “The case seemed like it was so clear-cut. Unfortunately, we were not ready to report” before the lawsuit was filed.

As promised, the school district took the case to Lee the next day. To the newspaper's surprise, Lee granted the district a temporary restraining order barring the Daily Star from publishing details of the sexual harassment case.

Buel said Lee's decision was “a slam dunk” against us.

She said Lee couldn't get past the attorney-client privilege claims and ignored the paper's arguments that the order constituted prior restraint.

Several issues changed after Lee's ruling, Buel said. Although the Daily Star managed to publish a “bare-bones” story, the Tucson Daily Citizen, several television stations and an alternative weekly all ran complete reports, names and all.

After Lee's decision to rescind his order, the school board voted to open an investigation into who mailed the documents to the newspaper.

Calls to the school district's legal department were not returned.