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Author passes 100-day mark behind bars

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         TEXAS         Confidentiality/Privilege         Oct 29, 2001    

Author passes 100-day mark behind bars

  • An author’s attorney said he plans to ask a federal appellate court, once again, to release her on bond while she appeals rulings that require her to disclose confidential book research.

As journalist Vanessa Leggett marks more than 100 days in a federal prison, her attorney plans to ask a court this week to free her on bond while her appeal proceeds.

It will be the fourth time that attorney Mike DeGeurin has asked federal courts to set bond for Leggett, who has been held in the Federal Detention Center in Houston since July 20 for refusing to disclose confidential information to a federal grand jury. A subpoena sought four years of research for a book Leggett planned to write about the murder-for-hire of a Texas socialite.

The federal district court judge that ordered Leggett to jail for contempt refused to set bond this summer. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Houston (5th Cir.) and the entire appellate court also have refused Leggett’s requests for bond, DeGeurin said.

On Sept. 7, DeGeurin asked the entire Court of Appeals to rehear the three-judge panel’s decision to uphold the contempt citation. The full appellate court has not responded to DeGeurin’s petition for a rehearing, but it did deny his request to free Leggett on bond. The court gave no reason for the denial, DeGeurin said.

“Now enough time has gone by that I feel like it’s time to ask them for bond again,” DeGeurin said, adding that the length of Leggett’s incarceration is extraordinary.

There is no deadline by which the Fifth Circuit has to decide whether to rehear the case. However, DeGeurin can’t appeal Leggett’s incarceration to the U.S. Supreme Court until the court rules on his request for a rehearing.

Leggett has claimed a reporter’s privilege against revealing confidential sources and information. In the petition for rehearing, DeGeurin argues that courts must balance Leggett’s rights as a journalist against the federal prosecutors’ need for her research. The district court and three-judge appellate panel did not balance those interests, DeGeurin argues.

Leggett could walk away from jail if she handed over her research. She has not wavered in her decision not to do so, DeGeurin said.

(In re Grand Jury Subpoenas; Author’s counsel: Mike DeGeurin, Foreman, DeGeurin, Nugent & Gerger, Houston) MD

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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