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Appellate panel finds no reporter's privilege exists before grand juries

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         FIFTH CIRCUIT         Confidentiality/Privilege         Aug 18, 2001    

Appellate panel finds no reporter’s privilege exists before grand juries

  • The court’s decision means that author Vanessa Leggett will remain in jail for refusing to comply with a sweeping grand jury subpoena.

Finding that “the journalist privilege is ineffectual against a grand jury subpoena, absent evidence of governmental harassment or oppression,” a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Houston (5th Cir.) on Aug. 17 upheld the contempt citation of author Vanessa Leggett, who was jailed on July 20 for refusing to turn over her research.

“This court takes a narrow view of the journalist’s privilege in criminal cases, particularly in grand jury proceedings,” the Associated Press reported the order as saying.

The unsigned opinion did not directly address the question of whether an unpublished book author would qualify as a journalist in the first place, because there was no privilege whether she is or is not a journalist. While pointedly noting that Leggett is “a virtually unpublished free-lance writer, operating without an employer or a contract for publication,” the panel also said that if it had to decide whether she was a journalist, the standard would have been whether she had an intent at the time she gathered the material to disseminate it to the public.

The decision in the case will not be published, meaning the court does not intend for it to apply as precedent. Leggett’s attorney told AP that his client intends to appeal the decision.

(In re: Grand Jury Subpoena; Journalist’s Counsel: Mike DeGeurin, Houston) GL

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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