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Author’s incarceration sets record for journalists in jail

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         TEXAS         Confidentiality/Privilege         Sep 5, 2001    

Author’s incarceration sets record for journalists in jail

  • Reporters Committee urges Justice Department to follow its own standards, which would free freelance writer Vanessa Leggett.

Freelance book author Vanessa Leggett became the longest-jailed journalist in U.S. history today, marking her 47th day behind bars on a contempt citation for refusing to disclose a confidential source to a federal grand jury.

The Reporters Committee urged Attorney General John Ashcroft to free Leggett in a letter delivered to the attorney general this morning. The press freedom group argued that the Justice Department should acknowledge that Leggett is a journalist and apply its news media subpoena guidelines in her case. If those guidelines were followed, the subpoena for Leggett’s research would be withdrawn, the civil contempt charge would be dissolved, and Leggett would be freed from jail, the Reporters Committee argued in its letter.

“The Vanessa Leggett case has already called into question this administration’s dedication to First Amendment principles,” the letter to Ashcroft said. “While one jailing cannot truly indicate a sweeping change in policy, the continued lack of any action or response by you personally can only fuel suspicion that Ms. Leggett’s jailing is not of much concern to your department.”

Leggett, who spent four years researching a high-profile Houston murder case, was jailed on July 20 for refusing to disclose her sources or research materials. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Houston (5th Cir.) on Aug. 17 upheld the contempt citation and ruled that no reporter’s privilege exists against a grand jury subpoena. The court did not decide whether Leggett is a journalist.

The previous record for incarceration of a journalist is believed to have been set by a Los Angeles reporter almost 30 years ago. William Farr, then with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, was jailed for 46 days in 1972 for refusing to reveal the source of leaked documents in the Charles Manson trial.

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

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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