Former Chiquita attorney not protected by shield law
OHIO–The Ohio shield law, which allows a reporter to protect the identity of a source, does not prevent the reporter from voluntarily naming that source, Cincinnati trial Judge Ann Marie Tracey ruled in mid-April.
The ruling came in response to a source’s attempt to assert the reporter’s privilege and avoid liability for unlawfully intercepting voice mail used in the controversial Cincinnati Enquirer series about the business practices of Chiquita Brands International.
Tracey held that only reporters can assert the shield law to protect their confidential sources, and because Enquirer reporter Michael Gallagher already had disclosed that former Chiquita lawyer George Ventura was his source, the shield law was not applicable.
Ventura unsuccessfully argued that Gallagher should not have been allowed by the court to name Ventura as his source for unauthorized access to Chiquita voice mail because Ventura was a confidential source whose identity receives protection from disclosure under Ohio’s shield law.
Gallagher has admitted he illegally acquired access to internal Chiquita voice mail and is awaiting sentencing on two felony charges as a result. Gallagher’s sentence could range from probation to more than two years in prison, according to Associated Press reports.
Gallagher used information from the unlawfully acquired voice mail in a May 1998 series published in the Enquirer. The stories included allegations of corrupt and illegal business practices within the banana company’s Central American operations.
Ventura has pleaded not guilty to five counts of unlawful interception of communications and five counts of unauthorized access to a computer system, charges that carry the potential for more than ten years in prison. Ventura, who is now practicing law in Salt Lake City, faces trial in July.
In June 1998, the Enquirer renounced the stories about corruption at Chiquita, fired Gallagher, and paid Chiquita more than $10 million to settle any claims related to the series. (Ohio v. Ventura)