the public has a ‘legitimate interest’

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The New York Times has submitted a filing in the criminal case against former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), arguing the court should defend First Amendment rights by allowing certain parties to provide information to members of the media.

In an Aug. 2 letter to Judge Lewis Kaplan of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, NY Times vice president and deputy general counsel David McCraw expressed concerns about the gag order placed upon Bankman-Fried and what participants in his criminal trial were allowed to say to journalists. On July 20, The New York Times published an article revealing details of former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison’s private journals, including her professional and personal relationship with SBF.

McCraw argued that as Bankman-Fried was a ‘non-lawyer’, the standard for imposing a gag order aimed at preventing harm to other parties connected to the criminal case was stricter than for lawyers. As Judge Kaplan removed language from the order suggesting it wasn’t necessary to prevent “interfer[ing] with a fair trial”, the NY Times claimed the public and members of the Fourth Estate had a right to receive information according to the First Amendment.

“While the current round of motion practice was prompted by a Times article about Caroline Ellison, and the Government argues that the article was part of Defendant’s effort to interfere with the trial, that overlooks the public’s legitimate interest—independent of this prosecution—in Ms. Ellison and her activities at her cryptocurrency trading firm,” said McCraw. “She has confessed to being a central participant in a financial scheme that defrauded investors of billions of dollars—a scheme that was not detected by government regulators and law enforcement agencies until the public’s money had disappeared.”

He added:

“It is not surprising that the public wants to know more about who she is and what she did and that news organizations would seek to provide to the public timely, pertinent, and fairly reported information about her.”

Lawyers for Bankman-Fried turned over documents connected to the NY Times interview – seemingly including Ellison’s journals — to the court on July 27. SBF is expected to appear in court on Aug. 3 as prosecutors push to have his $250-million bail revoked, claiming the interview was intended to intimidate Ellison and affect her testimony.

Related: Was Sam Bankman-Fried behind a scam project?

Since his arrest and indictment in December 2022, Bankman-Fried has returned to the New York courthouse several times to address issues related to his bail conditions, which largely require him to stay in his parents’ California home. He is already barred from using messaging apps, virtual private networks and certain technology.

Justice Department officials announced on July 27 they expected to drop the charge concerning violations of campaign finance against SBF due to the conditions of the extradition agreement with the Bahamas — Bankman-Fried was originally arrested in the island nation before being transferred to U.S. custody. The former FTX CEO still faces 12 criminal counts, which will be spread across two trials scheduled for October 2023 and March 2024.

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