Federal judge threatens to jail author if he doesn’t turn over notes, tapes
ARIZONA — A federal judge threatened in late August to send a book author to jail if he did not turn over notes and tapes he made while researching a feud among members of the family that founded the U-Haul rental company.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Van Sickle ordered author Ronald Watkins to turn over the documents relating to his interviews of Leonard Shoen, founder of the Phoenix-based company. Watkins wrote a book on the battle for control of the company and the unsolved 1990 murder of a family member.
Two of Shoen’s sons sued their father for libel in October 1990, claiming that he linked them to the murder in comments he made during interviews. Watkins was subpoenaed to testify in the case, and when he refused in August 1992 the trial judge held in him contempt of court. In September 1992, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled that Watkins, as a book author, had a First Amendment privilege against turning over his notes.
The court held that the brothers should have sought the information from their father before turning to Watkins.
An attorney for the Shoen brothers, Russell Piccoli, said that the elder Shoen has since been questioned and cannot recall what he told Watkins, the Associated Press reported.
Judge Van Sickle told Watkins that only information from his notes relevant to the libel suit would be turned over to the Shoen brothers’ attorneys, the AP reported.
Watkins’ attorney, Guy Price, said only four of the more than 100 people Watkins interviewed for the book would allow their names to be used, and he said he feared that turning over the notes could lead to the inadvertent disclosure of confidential sources, according to AP.
Watkins told the AP that he had expected to be jailed immediately, but Judge Van Sickle allowed seven days for an appeal to be filed.
(Shoen v. Shoen; Media Counsel: Guy Price, Phoenix)