CoreCivic is one of the nation’s largest private prison companies. And while it should already be concerning that we even have private prison companies, CoreCivic appears to be particularly awful. Just last week, CoreCivic was in the 9th Circuit appeals court trying to overturn a dismissal of its SLAPP lawsuit that it filed against investment firm Candide Group and a Forbes writer, Morgan Simon, for making claims about the company that turned out to be pretty accurate. In the process, CoreCivic is trying to undermine California’s useful anti-SLAPP law by saying it can’t be used in federal court (something the 9th Circuit has already allowed in other cases).
But, back in Tennessee (CoreCivic’s home state), the company is looking to suppress speech in a different way: literally asking a court to issue a gag order on lawyer Daniel Horwitz, who is representing the family of Terry Childress, who died in one of CoreCivic’s hellholes. Horwitz has been tweeting about the case, including revealing some pretty damning documents about the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, where Childress died. Given the possibility that this thread might be memory holed, you can see a PDF of it below, though much of that thread is shown in one of the filings below as well.
CoreCivic didn’t like that. It didn’t like that at all. It complained to Horwitz about his tweeting, and suggested that it would ask the court to stop him from doing so. In response, Horwitz went to court first, asking the judge to rule that he could continue discussing these matters publicly.
In particular, the Plaintiffs move this Court for an order affirming their and their counsel’s First Amendment rights to speak about—and to petition the government for redress regarding—CoreCivic’s pervasive noncompliance with constitutional requirements and safety standards at its Tennessee prison facilities.
CoreCivic then filed a motion making it clear that it really, really wants to shut Horwitz up. The filing specifically asks the court to order Horwitz to “remove all public communications within their control, including social media posts” that CoreCivic claims “would interfere with a fair trial, including commentary regarding this lawsuits or matters at issue in this lawsuit.” CoreCivic’s argument is that Horwitz tweeting about how bad CoreCivic is, complete with documented proof, will somehow bias a jury against CoreCivic. By that standard, any company being sued for anything could silence basically anyone. But that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.
And, of course, all this has actually done is Streisand all this information that CoreCivic doesn’t want you to see about how it runs the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. CoreCivic’s filing is really quite something, as their main complaint is that Horwitz is just so mean in highlighting documents showing how unsafe Trousdale is and how understaffed it is. From CoreCivic’s filing:
Mr. Horwitz’s social media posts are direct, a necessary requirement of Twitter, yet are extraordinarily vicious in their verbiage. Certain of Mr. Horwitz’s social media posts specifically mention Childress and contend that Defendants bear responsibility for his unfortunate death. Indeed, these posts call CoreCivic a “death factory” and contend that CoreCivic “kill[s]” people
The claims that Horwitz, the lawyer for the plaintiff, will magically prejudice the jury is silly, but CoreCivic makes a spirited attempt to defend this nonsense.
More than this, Mr. Horwitz’s public comments absolutely will prejudice Defendants’ ability to obtain a fair trial. They are intended for vast public consumption and specifically are directed to Mr. Horwitz’s nearly 8,000 Twitter followers and to the public at large. They have been retweeted and shared multiple times over, significantly increasing their reach. They also have been picked up by local media outlets with incredibly high volumes of readers and viewers, like Channel 4 and The Tennessean. The negative impact on Defendants and on their right to a fair trial with an impartial jury cannot be understated. And, if allowed to continue, the public comments by Mr. Horwitz only will worsen, particularly as the parties begin the written discovery and deposition phase of this lawsuit.
Yeah, maybe the reason news organizations are picking up on them is that they are newsworthy? Is CoreCivic really arguing that news organizations can’t cover a case or it will prejudice a jury? There are easy ways to deal with that during the voir dire process in determining whether or not any potential juror follows Horwitz or has seen any of these news stories.
Anyway, CoreCivic needs to learn that while it may be able to shut up the prisoners in its private prisons, outside of those prisons free speech still exists.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, daniel horwitz, free speech, marie newby, prior restraint, private prisons, public records, slapp, terry childress