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Defendants drop subpoena for video in civil rights case

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Two government defendants in a civil rights lawsuit yesterday dropped a subpoena for unedited video footage of a reporter’s interview…

Two government defendants in a civil rights lawsuit yesterday dropped a subpoena for unedited video footage of a reporter’s interview with the plaintiff in the case.

Early in July 2010, the local governments of Nashville and Davidson Co., Tenn., subpoenaed Kathy L. Gilbert, a reporter for Christian news outlet United Methodist Communications, for the unedited version of a video interview with plaintiff Juana Villegas. An online article based on the recorded interview was published in July 2008. Gilbert and UMC filed a motion to quash the subpoena under the state shield law.

"Having reviewed the arguments and authorities set forth in United Methodist Communications’ Motion to Quash Subpoena, Defendant, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, hereby withdraws its subpoena … to Kathy Gilbert," the defendants' response to the motion read.

The plaintiff, Juana Villegas, is suing the Tennessee governments in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee for violations of her civil rights during a traffic stop and subsequent detention. Villegas, an undocumented immigrant who was pregnant, was jailed for six days after the  traffic stop. Villegas stated that she was prevented from speaking with her husband and gave birth with her foot cuffed to a hospital bed while police officers stood guard.

In its memorandum in support of its motion to quash, United Methodist Communications and Gilbert stated that the news service is the official newsgathering and distributing agency for The United Methodist Church, but operates “with editorial freedom as an independent news bureau serving all segments of church life and society.” Gilbert’s article included information about a Methodist program that advocates humane treatment for undocumented immigrants. United Methodist Communications also has a magazine and a television component, and publishes in several foreign languages.

The Tennessee shield law protects "a person engaged in gathering information for publication or broadcast connected with or employed by the news media or press, or who is independently engaged in gathering information for publication or broadcast” from disclosing any information or source.

“The protection of the nonpublic portions of the interview is in keeping with the purposes of qualified privileges such as the Shield Law to protect the integrity of the newsgathering process and to ensure the free flow of information to the public,” the motion read.

Without the voluntary withdrawal of the subpoena, Judge William Joseph Haynes, Jr. would have ruled on the motion after the defendants filed a response arguing against the motion. Instead, the response contained the request for withdrawal.