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Fund created to help reporter pay contempt fines

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    News Media Update         MINNESOTA         Confidentiality/Privilege    

Fund created to help reporter pay contempt fines

  • Group seeks to raise funds for Minnesota reporter Wally Wakefield, whose $200 per-day contempt fines could reach as high as $20,000.

April 9, 2004 — A group of Minnesota reporters have banded together to raise money on behalf of a 73-year-old colleague who was ordered by the state Supreme Court last fall to reveal the identity of a confidential source or pay a fine of $200 per day, set to begin Monday, April 12. The fine could reach as high as $20,000.

Wally Wakefield, a retired elementary school teacher, has worked for the Maplewood Review weekly newspaper for the past 20 years. In January 1997, Wakefield contributed to a story about the firing of Tartan High School football coach Richard Weinberger, who was terminated following accusations of misconduct and maltreatment of players, according to court records.

The article contained several statements from unnamed school officials, who said Weinberger intimidated his players. Weinberger sued the school district and four school officials for defamation, but did not sue Wakefield — who obtained the statements under a promise of confidentiality — or the newspaper. Instead, Weinberger subpoenaed Wakefield to learn the identities of his sources.

On Nov. 6, 2002, Judge Dale B. Lindman of District Court in St. Paul ordered Wakefield to comply with the subpoena. When Wakefield refused, he was found in contempt of court and fined $200 per day until he revealed his sources. The fine was stayed pending appeal.

Mark Anfinson, Wakefield’s attorney, argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court that the state shield law protected Wakefield from having to reveal his confidential sources. The court, however, in reversing an appellate court ruling, held in September 2003 that the law includes an exception for defamation cases, and that Wakefield is not protected under the shield law because his evidence is relevant to Weinberger’s libel suit.

Wakefield must pay the $200 per-day fine until July 19, when Weinberger’s defamation lawsuit begins.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporters Steve Brandt and Randy Furst created the group to help offset the cost to Wakefield. Furst says the group is looking for donations of “whatever people can give — $25, $50, $100. A handful of reporters are donating a day’s pay,” he said.

The group will have an executive board consisting of Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish, attorneys Mark Anfinson and John Borger, John Finnegan Sr., president of the Minnesota Joint Media Committee and former executive editor of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press , Deb Flemming, editor of the (Mankato) Free Press , and Gary Hill, FOI chairman of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists and director of investigations at KSTP-TV, Furst said.

(Weinberger v. Maplewood Review; Media Counsel: Mark R. Anfinson, Minneapolis) KM

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