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Judge rules against attorney general in case against Charleston newspaper

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Putnam County judge on Wednesday turned down West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s request to force the Daily Gazette Co. to turn over information about the combination of the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail newspapers.

Circuit Judge Phillip Stowers agreed with attorneys for the Gazette-Mail that probable cause must first be found before the newspaper is forced to produce documents, which could cost thousands of dollars.

“I have a state actor asking a private business to do something and the court says I have the right to decide whether or not probable cause exists that they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and I think this analysis fails for the fact that a reasonable person cannot imagine, based on this supposition, that something nefarious is going on,” Stowers said.

“The chilling effect — the chilling effect — of allowing a state actor, whether it’s the attorney general or any state entity to be able to, on mere supposition, require a person involved in First Amendment activity to have to spend a bunch of money just because someone thought it was a good idea to look into it — that’s not what this statute envisioned…

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