Florida Drops Efforts to Have Times-Union Reporter Subpoenaed

Rob Tricchinelli | Reporter's Privilege | News | December 21, 2012

The Florida attorney general has dropped its efforts to compel a reporter’s testimony in the ongoing case against a former aide to the state’s lieutenant governor.

Attorney General Pam Bondi withdrew an appeal Wednesday of a trial judge’s November order, which said that Florida Times-Union reporter Matt Dixon could not be compelled to testify in the state’s case against Carletha Cole.

According to court documents, the state was “voluntarily dismissing” its appeal. The Jacksonville newspaper had planned to fight the appeal.

Cole was arrested in 2011 on an illegal wiretapping charge and is accused of giving Dixon a recording of a conversation between Cole and John Konkus, the chief of staff to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Calls to Bondi’s office and to Dixon were not returned. Bondi’s office confirmed to the Associated Press that the appeal was dropped but offered no comment explaining why.

State prosecutors attempted to compel Dixon to appear in the Cole case, but Leon County Judge Frank Sheffield denied their efforts in November.

“Any information or knowledge possessed by Matt Dixon relating to matters material to the Cole case was gathered for the purposes of writing news stories,” Sheffield wrote. “Information obtained by a journalist while newsgathering is protected from disclosure by qualified privilege under the United States Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the Florida Statutes, and the common law.”

Bondi’s office appealed last Friday, claiming their case against Cole could unravel without Dixon’s testimony. The appeal also argued that Dixon’s testimony could lead to additional charges filed against Cole.

Cole secretly taped a September 2011 conversation between herself and Konkus, which was later posted on the Times-Union’s website. In the recording, Konkus was critical of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), saying he was “not leading.”

Cole had previously been critical of Carroll in an interview with Dixon, which was published before the recording was made available. Cole was fired after the interview was posted.

The newspaper’s posting of the recording led to the investigation, arrest, and indictment of Cole.