In a highly questionable ruling, New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Mueller (left) enjoined the showing of Lifeline’s film, “Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story,” which tells the true story of University of Rochester student Christopher Porco (right) who murdered his father with an axe and tried to murder his mother. It is a case of prior restraint and is rare in the United States. Proco had sued that the movie uses his name “for the purposes of trade.” However, Porco is a convicted murderer in a high-profile case from Nov. 2004. It is not clear how Mueller believes that such cases depictions are not covered by free speech but thankfully Mueller was reversed by the appellate court.
Porco is serving a minimum sentence of 50 years and filed a demand for an injunction from prison without counsel.
Porco can certainly file for defamation for anything that is false and defamatory — though some would argue that he is “libel proof” due to his notorious history.
What is also striking about the case is that Mueller granted the injunction despite that fact that Porco had never seen the film since his cinematic exposure is somewhat reduced at the maximum security prison at Dannemora, New York.
The Supreme Court has warned that “such a prior restraint on speech constitutes “one of the most extraordinary remedies known to our jurisprudence” and is universally recognized to be “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” Nebraska Press Ass’n v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 559, 559,
562 (1976). Indeed, as argued in the appellate brief, the burden for such prior restraint has been described as a “virtually insurmountable barrier.” Miami Herald Publ’g Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241, 259 (1979) (White, J., concurring).
I fail to see how Mueller could have reviewed a movie based on a notorious crime as subject to such an injunction from Porco. The only such order that comes to mind previously in New York was the prior restraint placed on Business Week in 1995. That case however involved the publication of sealed documents from a case. I viewed that order as highly problematic for the same reason, though it was a stronger basis for an order than the Porco case.
Mueller is a former prosecutor with a degree from Ohio Northern University and an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University.