Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox has made a rather ignoble entry into national news with a clearly unconstitutional order to the Palm Beach Post to unpublish material from its website. The act of prior restraint violates core first amendment protections and will achieve nothing since the information was part of a public filing. The utter lack of legal judgment (and knowledge) shown by Cox in this order is deeply troubling.
Cox ordered The Palm Beach Post to remove from its website transcripts of telephone recordings of Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse snitch who brags about his ability to elicit confessions from fellow inmates and how he scored a deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence. The transcript was obtained by defense counsel and made part of a public filing. Despite the wide availability of copies of the filing and the later posting by the newspaper, Cox bizarrely ordered the Post to remove two paragraphs from the online version of the story.
The Post complied with the following note:
“EDITOR’S NOTE: Under the Nov. 30, 2015, order of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox, The Palm Beach Post has removed transcripts of portions of recordings of phone calls made by Frederick Cobia while being held in the Palm Beach County Jail. Also removed from a previous version of this story are two paragraphs that included quotations from the transcripts. The Post is appealing Cox’s ruling.”
The Post has noted that the original version of the October story “continues to live on the internet.” Indeed, anyone can locate the original material on locations like this one. Moreover, this was lawfully obtained material that the newspaper is entitled to publish. In other words, there was even less practice than legal sense in trying to get this cat to walks backwards. While Cox believes that Cobia’s right to privacy was violated, this was the wrong part to address any such violation. Instead of curing the privacy violation, he added a serious constitutional violation.
Cox was appointed by former Governor Charlier Crist in 2008 to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University in 1973 and his J.D. degree from the Cumberland School of Law in 1978.