CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Roane County judge on Friday repealed portions of a gag order he issued earlier this week that barred media outlets from reporting about the criminal background of a man accused of throwing his girlfriend off a bridge.
After questions from the Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Supreme Court officials discussed the constitutionality of the order with Circuit Judge David W. Nibert, said Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury.
Nibert issued the order Thursday in the case of Michael J. Smith, 30. The order barred reporters from disclosing that Smith was on home confinement the day he allegedly attacked his girlfriend.
Canterbury said Friday that after officials brought the problem to Nibert's attention Thursday, the judge agreed that the order might have been overly broad and said he would issue an amended order that removed any restrictions for the media.
"Judge Nibert is a very reasonable, compassionate, very understanding judge," Canterbury said. "He very quickly saw that he had overreached."
Judicial gag orders that prohibit the media from reporting on a subject, known as prior restraint, have generally been found unconstitutional in American courts.
In April, Smith's girlfriend, Brandi Shaw, was visiting him in his home in Reedy when they got into an argument, according to a criminal complaint filed in Roane County Magistrate Court and signed by county Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Smith.
While the two argued, Smith struck Shaw several times in the face and head, knocking her to the ground at least once, the complaint states.
Smith allegedly followed Shaw to a bridge at the intersection of Middle Fork and Liverpool Road and grabbed a bag she was carrying on her shoulder.
"I advised you not to go to that bridge," Smith allegedly told Shaw. Still holding the bag, he then jerked Shaw over the bridge abutment, according to the complaint. Shaw fell more than 8 feet, rolled over a rock and came to rest in the water.
"She advised that she was in a great amount of pain and had to beg the defendant to help her out of the water," the complaint states. "The victim stated that she had to tell the defendant that she loved him before he would come to help her."
Eventually, Smith carried Shaw out of the water and set her on a sidewalk leading to the bridge. Smith's mother drove to the bridge, picked them up and took them back to Smith's house. Despite Shaw's begging, no one called an ambulance until the next day, the complaint states.
Shaw was heavily bruised on her face, arms, legs and back. Later medical records indicated that she had an injury to her spinal column.