The Santa Barbara Independent reports that Superior Court Judge Brian Hill found photographer Paul Wellman in contempt of court for failing to turn over photographs subpoenaed in the murder trial of 14-year-old Ricardo Juarez.
As we have said earlier, this seems to be nothing more than a fishing expedition by defense attorney Karen Atkins.
California affords some of the strongest protections in the nation to subpoenaed journalists, and defends journalists not only through statutory law, but also the state constitution as well. In criminal cases, a defendant must show – as a threshold matter – that there is “a reasonable possibility that the information will materially assist his defense.”
If the defendant can overcome this threshold showing, the court must balance the importance of the information to the defendant against the potential damage to the journalist’s ability to gather information and the potential to obtain the information from other sources.
Even if the defendant in this case could hurdle the threshold issues, the balancing test should clearly favor Wellman, especially given that Atkins already received photographs of the crime scene from both the Santa Barbara New-Press and the Daily Sound, two newspapers that had photographers at the crime scene an hour before Wellman even took his first picture.