Subpoenaed Kansas reporter loses job

Cristina Abello | Reporter's Privilege | Feature | March 9, 2010

A Kansas reporter who previously fought to keep a confidential source from local prosecutors has now lost her job.

Reporter Claire O’Brien was terminated last week from her position at the Dodge City Daily Globe after a subpoena battle last month that ended when a criminal defendant accepted a plea deal. County prosecutors had been seeking testimony about O’Brien’s interview with the defendant and the identity of a source she quoted in her story about the case.

The company that owns the Globe, GateHouse Media, and O’Brien appealed the subpoena up to the Kansas Supreme Court and lost. After O’Brien was held in contempt for failing to appear in court, which she said today was “a stupid mistake,” the confidential source revealed his identity to the prosecutors, which allowed her to not testify about him in a private court proceeding known as an inquisition.

O'Brien testified with an independent attorney about her interview with the defendant and said she basically corroborated the information that had already been published.

According to O’Brien, the publishing corporation’s attorneys were only willing to facilitate the disclosure of her information.

“The only reason I’m in this situation is because I didn’t cooperate and give up the source,” O’Brien said today in an interview. 

Stephen Wade, group publisher for GateHouse Media Kansas, said the company couldn't comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

O’Brien said that the newspaper placed her on leave until after her scheduled testimony regarding the jailhouse interview on Feb. 12. But after that day, O'Brien says the paper changed the locks to the newsroom -- every reporter was given the key except her -- and she was not allowed in the newsroom alone.

“I was back on staff, but didn't have a key,” she said “They told every single person on staff that if I showed up over the weekend, to call the police.”

O’Brien said that she was finishing up the third installment in a six-part series last Friday, March 5, when she was called into editors' offices and told that "you're not working out; you have thirty minutes to get your stuff together and leave the building." She received no severance package.

Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish called O’Brien’s firing so shortly after the controversy regarding her testimony “unusual, to say the least. And quite disturbing.”

O’Brien said she was disappointed that she would not be able to finish the articles she was writing.

“What really ticks me off is that just Monday, I had said to [my editor] that I was so happy to be back,” she said. “It just really reminded me what I was here for and what I love to do.”