Posts in Newsroom Subpoenas.

Many journalists, constitutional lawyers, and plain old average Americans have expressed alarm at recent revelations about the Obama Administration’s “unprecedented number of leak investigations.”  Perhaps most notably, James Goodale, who represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case, has argued that the President is on his way to surpassing Richard Nixon as “the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.”

Of primary concern appears to be the Justice Department’s investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen.  As is ... Read More 

A trial court judge in Charlotte ruled Thursday that a defendant in a murder case is not entitled to unaired footage from the A&E series The First 48.  The case presented an interesting twist on shield law issues.

Jonathan Fitzgerald has been charged with the murder of Oscar Alvarado Chavez, who was stabbed to death in his car in August 2010 in Charlotte.  The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has entered into a contract with the producers of The First 48 to give the show access to officers investigating homicides.  The premise of the show is that if a suspect is not identified within the ... Read More 

North Carolina media organizations won a significant victory in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina last week when a group of the state’s media outlets convinced a federal judge to quash subpoenas that sought from the media nearly two years’ worth of news coverage of the Eve Carson murder investigation and court proceedings.

Counsel for Demario James Atwater, the defendant in the federal criminal case, issued subpoenas to media organizations across the state generally seeking all publicly aired broadcasts or published news articles regarding the ... Read More 

In yet another data point on the status of anonymous Internet speech, a New York judge this week quashed a subpoena seeking the identity of a person who had posted comments on a newspaper website.

We have covered this topic in a number of prior posts, for example here and here, as courts have grappled in the past year with the question of when to enforce subpoenas to media organizations that would compel the identification of an anonymous Internet speaker.  Such subpoenas have been examined both from a First Amendment perspective, in terms of the constitutional right to ... Read More 

The Media Law Resource Center recently flagged this interesting study, by Professor RonNell Andersen Jones, due to be published soon in the Washington Law Review.  Professor Jones, a former newspaper reporter who has written widely on media law issues, undertook a large-scale survey of newspaper and broadcast reporters and editors to assess the impact that a surge in newsroom subpoenas is having on the media.  Her work is intended to be an update to Professor Vincent Blasi's landmark study of the same issue in 1971, just as the Branzburg cases were making their way to the Supreme Court.Read More 

Back in December we wrote a series of posts about the emerging issue of subpoenas seeking the identity of anonymous commenters to newspaper web sites.  In the intervening weeks, the issue has continued to develop, with news coming recently that a company hired by the York Daily Record to manage its web site comment sections had agreed to disclose to authorities the identity of anonymous commenters.

Much like the Alton Telegraph case we've reported on, this case involved a story posted by the newspaper on its web site concerning a murder investigation.  The local prosecutor sought the ... Read More 

A sheriff's deputy has arrived in your newsroom, with what you now are sure is a subpoena.  In fact, let’s be more specific.

You spent six months investigating an in-depth enterprise piece on the influx of undocumented workers in a neighboring county.  Your story follows one particular worker, whose identity you do not reveal, as he navigates his way through life, a life which includes using a false Social Security number and driving with no insurance.

Two weeks after the story appears, a deputy from that county's Sheriff's Department shows up at with a subpoena in hand ... Read More 

It’s the pivotal moment in countless episodes of Law & Order and CSI.  You know the scene by heart, no doubt.

Detectives approach the intrepid reporter asking for some video or information about where the reporter got a piece of information.  The reluctant reporter puts up initial resistance, saying something like, “That is confidential.”  Detectives quickly respond that they will get a subpoena if they "have to," and, if they do, “we’ll come back in a bad mood.”  Detectives leave with information in hand.

Such confrontations are key to wrapping up a case in forty-eight ... Read More 


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