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Court limits reporter's privilege to confidential information

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Court limits reporter's privilege to confidential information 04/21/97 FLORIDA--An appellate court in Lakeland held in late March that the state…

Court limits reporter’s privilege to confidential information

04/21/97

FLORIDA–An appellate court in Lakeland held in late March that the state privilege protecting journalists from compelled testimony applies only to confidential information. The court overturned a lower court’s decision to quash a subpoena seeking information about a journalist’s article on a automobile accident.

Diane Mason, then a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, wrote a story about a 1991 traffic accident involving a man and a woman. The man, Merlan Davis, crashed his car into his ex-girlfriend’s car after a chase over the Skyway Bridge in Clearwater. The woman, Nicole Terry, had previously obtained a temporary restraining order barring Davis from contact with her. However, after the accident, Davis claimed that Terry had deliberately caused the crash by slamming on her brakes when she realized Davis was behind her on the bridge.

Davis wanted Mason to testify to support his claim that Terry had deliberately planned to collide. Davis requested information from the Times about the reporter. The newspaper said that since the material was protected by a reporter’s privilege and because Mason had left the newspaper, it would not give Davis any information on the article or Mason’s whereabouts.

The lower court held that the constitutional right not to disclose gathered news also applied to nonconfidential information, including information about a reporter, and Davis’ motion to compel discovery from the newspaper was denied.

The district court cited a three-part test used to determine whether the privilege is overcome by other interests: whether the information is relevant; whether it is available through other sources; and whether there is a compelling need for it. At the hearing, the court said that Davis could obtain the information through other channels.

In late March, the Court of Appeals in Lakeland reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that since the information Davis requested from the newspaper was not confidential, neither the reporter nor the news publication could be protected by the reporter’s privilege. (Davis v. Florida)