Vanessa Leggett released from jail after 168 days

Reporter's Privilege | Feature | January 4, 2002

    NMU         FIFTH CIRCUIT         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jan 4, 2002    

Vanessa Leggett released from jail after 168 days

  • The independent book author was released after the grand jury's term expired, not because a judge agreed that she had a First Amendment right to keep her material confidential.

Author Vanessa Leggett was released early this morning from the Federal Detention Center in Houston after 168 days of incarceration on a civil contempt charge. She had been held in contempt of court in July for refusing to disclose confidential materials she gathered while researching and writing a book on the 1997 murder of a Houston socialite.

"I'm just so happy to be free finally," Leggett told reporters as she left the center. "I just want to get home."

Leggett was released because the grand jury before which she was ordered to testify completed its term yesterday. Jailing for civil contempt, which is meant to coerce desired behavior rather than punish, must end when there is no longer a way for the witness to comply with the subpoena.

But Leggett's ordeal may not be over -- she could be subpoenaed at trial if prosecutors obtained an indictment in the underlying criminal case, or she could be called before another grand jury later. Prosecutors indicated in court papers yesterday that they still intend to pursue her testimony in the future, but did not specify how or when.

Leggett said she would be more than willing to go back to jail, according to an Associated Press report.

"If that's what it takes, that's what it takes," she said. "This is not so much about me. It's about the public's right to a free and independent press."

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

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