Posts in Reporters Privilege.

The right of journalists to refuse to testify regarding information or sources obtained as part of the news-gathering process, known as the reporter’s privilege, has been recognized by 49 of the 50 states and the District of Colombia. However, these existing protections are only applicable in state court. Federal law offers no statutory reporter’s privilege, leading to high-profile federal court cases in which a journalist is forced to choose between revealing confidential sources or spending time in jail for contempt of court.

The most prominent recent example is the case of ... Read More 

In a decision with important implications for bloggers and other so-called "new media" journalists seeking to invoke the protections of their state's reporter's privilege, a New Jersey appeals court recently held that New Jersey's shield statute did not protect a woman who operated a web site dedicated to revealing "criminal activity" within the pornography industry.

The appellate court's decision in Too Much Media, LLC v. Shellee Hale affirmed a trial court decision requiring Hale to reveal her sources for a series of web postings that the plaintiffs asserted were, among other ... Read More 

Federal reporter’s shield legislation has met with opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The committee addressed S. 448, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, in a hearing on September 17 but, ultimately, failed to report the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor.   The inability to move the bill to the floor for a vote by the full Senate is a disappointment to the media and surely to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the committee and co-sponsor of the bill.

S. 448, as amended, generally protects journalists from having to disclose source information in a ... Read More 


We have been closely following the saga of Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter and his efforts to avoid being forced to reveal the confidential source of information concerning former federal prosecutor, Richard Convertino.  The former prosecutor is attempting to sue the Justice Department under the federal Privacy Act.

Last week the judge in the case, District Court Judge Robert Cleland, allowed Ashenfelter to submit a confidential affidavit explaining the basis for Ashenfelter’s fears that he might face criminal prosecution if forced to reveal his source.

As we ... Read More 

We have covered in a number of prior posts the saga of a former federal prosecutor's efforts to compel Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to disclose the identity of a confidential source.  This story has had a number of interesting twists and turns, and last week's development was no different -- after hearing testimony from Ashenfelter in camera federal district court judge Robert Cleland upheld Ashenfelter's invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which means that Ashenfelter will not have to reveal his source.

As we previously ... Read More 

A reporter’s or newsroom's best bet to quash an otherwise valid subpoena to appear in a state proceeding is a state shield statute (such as North Carolina).  If, however, the subpoena was issued at the federal law, such as from a United States Attorney or a fed era grand jury, or if you are in a state that lacks a shield statute (such as Texas), then your only choice is to rely on the muddled outcome of a thirty-six-year-old United Supreme Court precedent.  Despite its age, the value of this case to reporters remains uncertain.

In Branzburg v. Hayes, the Court held 5-4 that reporters ... Read More 

In a new twist in a matter we have been following closely, a federal judge in Michigan issued a written ruling today ordering Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to sit for a second deposition.  The judge released his decision just over two weeks after conducting a hearing on a motion to hold Ashenfelter in contempt for refusing to testify at his deposition in a civil lawsuit about a confidential government source who divulged information to him about the plaintiff.

As we first reported in December, this case is particularly interesting because Ashenfelter invoked the ... Read More 

As we reported in December, reporter David Ashenfelter of the Detroit Free Press refused to answer questions about a confidential source during his deposition in a civil lawsuit.  The move was noteworthy because Ashenfelter, who was not a party in the lawsuit, invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in refusing to give testimony.  His earlier attempt to protect his source under the First Amendment had been rejected by the federal judge presiding over the case.

The grounds for Ashenfelter's invocation of the Fifth Amendment ... Read More 

A reporter for the Detroit Free Press took an unusual approach last week in an effort to protect the identity of a confidential source -- he invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

This dispute arose in the context of a civil lawsuit brought by former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino in federal court in the District of Columbia.  Convertino led the prosecution of the so-called "Detroit Sleeper Cell" defendants shortly after September 11, 2001; however, the Justice Department subsequently removed Convertino from his post and asked that the ... Read More 


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