The City of Greensboro attempted — and failed — to obtain a temporary restraining order against YES! Weekly on Tuesday evening to stop the distribution of information it says was accidentally given to the paper in public-information requests. City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan confirmed this afternoon that Judge Ronald E. Spivey rejected the city's request filed in Guilford County Superior Court on Jan. 29 after 5 p.m.
The city found out that we were going to publish information — our cover story about police surveillance of activists — that the city now says should not have been released. Shah-Khan said the city sought the restraining order to prevent the dissemination of information that was not public record but was criminal intelligence, even though it was released through public records requests filed with the city's public information office.
"We found out late Tuesday that information had been provided that would be the subject of a story… information that is protected from distribution under North Carolina law," Shah-Khan said. "We felt it was the appropriate thing to do at that time. We respect the decision made by the judge."
The hearing was ex-parte, meaning only the city was present, and YES! Weekly didn't become aware of the city's attempt until sources contacted the paper Wednesday evening.
Shah-Khan said he made the decision to request a restraining order in conjunction with Police Attorney Jim Clark. He said Chief Ken Miller was aware that confidential information.
"I can say with certainty that no council member was involved in the discussion or decision to pursue a restraining order," he wrote in an e-mail.
"The final decision was mine," Shah-Khan said. "The police attorney and I worked on that and we felt it was the appropriate way to go. The buck stops with me. I don’t tell the chief how to do police work and the chief doesn’t tell me how to do my job either. The chief was part of the group that had information as to what we’re looking at."
Shah-Khan would not comment on whether the action was necessary in retrospect, but said there hadn't been a meeting to assess whether the city made the right call.
"This is a rare situation and I don’t recall if the city has done this on any other cases [with the media]," Shah-Khan said. "It’s criminal intelligence information. It talked about a confidential informant, at least according to your story."
Shah-Khan said if they could find information about whether the city has ever requested a temporary restraining order against a media outlet he would notify YES! Weekly. So what's next?
"There is no additional legal challenge," Shah Khan said. "You’ve published the story and we’ll move on from there."
[The original post was edited to reflect a clarification by City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan about the role of city council members. Shah-Khan was originally quoted as saying he "doesn't recall" if council members were involved but he sent an e-mail after reading the blog post to clarify that none participated in the deicision.]