Team 10 investigation prompts a legal showdown over free speech

Utility's request for protective order denied

SAN DIEGO - A judge has ruled against San Diego Gas & Electric following a Team 10 investigation involving allegations of racism inside the utility sparked a legal firestorm over free speech.

 
Judge Jeffrey Barton denied a protective order preventing more information from being released about an upcoming wrongful termination trial.
 
At stake in the court hearing was the amount of information the public receives about court cases.
 
From claims of nooses left on trucks, to the N-word in bathroom stalls, a former SDG&E lineman said he was fired when he complained about discrimination.
 
Team 10 investigators broke the original story of Bilal Abdullah's allegations of a racially charged workplace -- a description the company calls untrue.
 
A month ago, ahead of the civil trial, Team 10 obtained video depositions of several workers that included claims that supervisors made offensive comments.
 
SDG&E claims the sound bites were taken out of context and could prejudice a jury.
 
A judge delayed the trial, calling for a cooling-off period.
 
After Abdullah's attorney made more public comments about the case, SDG&E filed for a protective order.
 
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in, and at a hearing on Friday, they argued a gag order was unconstitutional.
 
"This is a core First Amendment issue that transcends this case. It's about the core right to speak to the public and press on matters of public concern. There's nothing more unconstitutional than telling people in advance they can't talk about something," said David Loy of the San Diego chapter of the ACLU.
 
SDG&E lawyers argued their concern is making sure lawyers don't break the law by releasing information aimed at tainting a jury pool.
 
"The right to a fair trial is just as important as the right to free speech, and that's why we have these rules in place," said SDG&E attorney Jonathan Andrews. 
 
In the end, Barton determined none of the information released would prevent a fair trial and denied SDG&E's request for protective order.
 
The civil trial is set for early January.
 
The ACLU called the decision a victory for free speech. 
 
In a statement, SDG&E said it won't be arguing the case in the media and looks forward to telling its story at trial. 
 
In previous reports, parent company Sempra Energy has touted its diverse workforce, which is more than 50 percent minority. 
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