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Free Press fights former prosecutor's 'fishing expedition'

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
In a court filing Monday, the Detroit Free Press accused former U.S. prosecutor Richard Convertino of conducting a "quintessential fishing…

In a court filing Monday, the Detroit Free Press accused former U.S. prosecutor Richard Convertino of conducting a "quintessential fishing expedition" as the paper continued to fight a subpoena in Convertino’s Privacy Act lawsuit.

In a reply to Convertino’s latest arguments to compel the Free Press to give testimony and documents relating to the identity of reporter David Ashenfelter’s source, the newspaper insisted Convertino was seeking too much information. Convertino is asking for information regarding all stories the Free Press has published about him.

The newspaper counters that the only relevant story is the one in which Ashenfelter, relying on an anonymous Department of Justice source, reported that Convertino was the subject of an internal inquiry over his conduct in an earlier terrorism prosecution. The leak of that tip is at the heart of Convertino’s Privacy Act suit.

"[T]he Free Press is not a library," the newspaper asserts in its most recent filing, and a subpoena "is not a pass to browse its archives." The newspaper says it is willing to turn over documents relating to that single story, but the subpoena should be narrowed to reflect that limit.

The Free Press also contested Convertino’s assertion that documents in Ashenfelter’s possession are available to the newspaper. Ashenfelter has made it clear that he will not turn over any documents to the newspaper, only to watch the newspaper hand them over to Convertino, the Free Press claims. The newspaper also rejects Convertino’s argument that Ashenfelter’s documents are legally under the Free Press‘s "control," saying the former prosecutor was incorrectly applying a doctrine from copyright law that has no relevance to this case.

The newspaper points out that its policies in 2004, when Ashenfelter’s story was published, gave it no right to demand a reporter’s notes.

Finally, the Free Press repeated its argument that it should not be forced to send a representative to testify about the source in Ashenfelter’s story. The court has already determined that Ashenfelter is the most appropriate choice to represent the newspaper, and he has successfully invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid revealing his sources. The Free Press argues that because it is not even a party in the lawsuit, it should not be required to testify about information it doesn’t have.