MIAMI -- A federal judge has ordered Cable News Network to stop broadcasting taped telephone conversations made from prison by ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega, saying that the tapes may have damaged Noriega's right to a fair trial.
But officials at CNN, calling the order unconstitutional, continued the coverage and network lawyers asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta for an emergency hearing today.
Noriega's attorney, Frank Rubino, told U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler that the tapes broadcast by CNN include conversations between the deposed general and his lawyers. Rubino contends that the tapes violate the right of a defendant to speak freely and confidentially with his lawyer, a concept known as attorney-client privilege.
Rubino said yesterday he plans to move for dismissal of the U.S. drug trafficking case against the former Panamanian strongman.
After CNN said that it would press its case, Hoeveler asked the network to stop airing the tapes voluntarily as a matter of public responsibility.
"We have now a problem of damage control," Hoeveler said. Acknowledging that CNN could ignore his request and pursue its appeal, he said, "It's a matter of responsibility. Our system is being watched around the world, to make sure that a fair trial is held. The press is a responsible participant in this."
He also ordered the Bureau of Prisons temporarily to stop recording telephone conversations made from prison by Noriega while the court hears Rubino's argument that the taping violates Noriega's constitutional rights.
In issuing his order against CNN, Hoeveler said that the case involved a precedent in which the principle of freedom of the press was colliding with the right of a defendant to a fair trial. He said that Rubino had told the court that he had identified conversations on the tape involving "witnesses, defense investigations and strategy at the core of Noriega's defense."
Panama wants to try the ousted dictator if the United States drops its case against Noriega, President Guillermo Endara said yesterday.