Smith is apparently involved with Jennings’ ex-wife, who is in a bitter custody battle with Jennings. Jennings, Smith alleged, had written posts falsely stating that Smith was a “pedophile” and a “known predator” (see the application for the TRO for more), so Smith sued Jennings for libel.
So far so good: Smith might have a valid libel claim. But instead of just getting damages, or even an injunctions against future libels, the court issued this pretrial restraining order (Smith v. Jennings (Okla. Dist. Ct.), dated Wednesday):
That can’t be constitutional, it seems to me.
But beyond that, Oklahoma is one of the several states that still forbids injunctions in libel cases, even narrow injunctions that ban repeating statements found to be libelous after a trial on the merits. See House of Sight & Sound, Inc. v. Faulkner, 912 P.2d 357, 361 (Okla. Civ. App. 1995); First Am. Bank & Trust Co. v. Sawyer, 865 P.2d 347, 352 (Okla. Civ. App. 1993). There is a narrow exception for “conspiracy, intimidation, or coercion,” but it is narrow indeed, and First Am. Bank & Trust Co. made clear that the “coercion” element is not satisfied simply by speech being aimed at pressuring a business to give the speaker a refund or similar benefit.
And I’ve seen plenty of other cases that issue such clearly unconstitutionally overbroad injunctions. Just a reminder, I think, that things happen in trial courts that are hard to reconcile with the appellate precedents—and if the losing party doesn’t have the money, energy, or time to fight the case on appeal, the trial judge’s decision stands.