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High court declines to hear Vanessa Leggett’s appeal

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Confidentiality/Privilege         Apr 15, 2002    

High court declines to hear Vanessa Leggett’s appeal

  • The Texas writer who was jailed for 168 days for refusing to reveal confidential sources to federal authorities lost her bid to have the high court clarify the law surrounding a journalist’s privilege to protect sources.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of aspiring book author Vanessa Leggett, who was jailed for 168 days for refusing to reveal confidential sources to a federal grand jury.

The court’s decision was announced today without explanation, which is customary.

Leggett was jailed in the Federal Detention Center in Houston on July 20, 2001, on a civil contempt charge after she refused to provide four years of research into the 1997 shooting death of Houston socialite Doris Angleton.

Leggett argued that she was protected by a reporter’s constitutional privilege against revealing confidential sources, but two federal courts disagreed.

She was released on Jan. 4 when the grand jury’s term expired. Shortly after her release from jail, Leggett avoided another grand jury subpoena when a new grand jury indicted Robert Angleton for murder-for-hire in the death of his wife.

U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued to the Supreme Court that Leggett’s release from jail made her appeal moot. But Leggett countered that she could be subpoenaed to testify at Angleton’s trial, and would face another contempt citation and more jail time if she did not comply.

Angleton contends that the federal charges against him amount to double jeopardy, since a state court jury acquitted him of murder in 1998. A hearing is pending in federal district court on Angleton’s motion to dismiss the charges.

Leggett’s appeal urged the Supreme Court to clarify the law surrounding a journalist’s First Amendment privilege to protect confidential sources. Federal courts apply the law unequally, resulting in disparate treatment for newsgatherers across the country, her appeal said.

She also argued that the subpoena, which sought all copies of her research, would leave her unable to work on her book. As such, the subpoena amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint, the appeal said.

(Leggett v. United States) MD

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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