Reporters Committee urges court to quash blogger's subpoena in Duke lacrosse cases

Press Release | November 6, 2012

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief with several Maine news organizations in U.S. District Court in Maine, seeking a reaffirmation of a journalist’s right to protect his confidential sources in reporting on the Duke lacrosse case.

In the brief filed in McFadyen& Carrington v. Duke University, the Reporters Committee, Main Press Association, Maine Today Media Inc., Bangor Publishing Co. and Maine Association of Broadcasters argue that a subpoena seeking the notes and correspondence of blogger and author Robert David Johnson be quashed. Johnson has written extensively about the sexual assault allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team.

Duke is defending itself in North Carolina against claims brought by former lacrosse players, but served the subpoena in Maine, where Johnson lives. A U.S. Magistrate judge upheld Duke’s subpoenas for Johnson’s materials, which included any correspondence with Duke lacrosse player, Duke employee or alumnus; documents related to payments made to Duke lacrosse players and their attorneys; and policies and contractual agreements related to Dr. Johnson's blog.

“Allowing this decision to stand will have an unsettling impact well beyond this particular discovery dispute,” the brief argued. “It treats the issue of a reporter’s privilege — and therefore the fundamental First Amendment rights of journalists — as an ordinary discovery dispute without consideration of the public’s interest in free and robust reporting of current events.”

“The magistrate’s narrow interpretation of the law and the decision to uphold the subpoena misapplied the precedent for the reporters’ privilege in the First Circuit,” said Gregg P. Leslie, Reporters Committee legal defense director. “Beyond the importance of ensuring that journalists are free to work independently of the judicial process, upholding these subpoenas would have a very real chilling effect on reporting about important controversies.”

The friend-of-the-court brief is posted on the Reporters Committee website.

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.