California to consider legislation outlawing ‘checkbook journalism’
CALIFORNIA — When the California legislature reconvenes in early August, it will consider legislation that would make it a crime to pay witnesses and jurors for interviews.
The legislation was prompted by a recent incident where a witness in the O.J. Simpson murder case testified that he had been paid by the National Enquirer for an interview.
Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), a witness selling a story could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) plans to introduce similar legislation to prohibit witnesses from selling their stories for at least a year.
“Payment so taints the system that it creates doubts in the mind of the jurors about the credibility of the witness,” Brown told the Associated Press.
The legislation poses some First Amendment problems. First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams told the National Law Journal that there was a “major First Amendment barrier” to such a bill.
But Brown indicated that he saw no constitutional problems with his bill. “I am not barring them from saying it, I’m barring them from getting paid for it,” the AP reported.
(S.B. 1999, Calif. Legis. 1994)