High court finds prosecutors cannot compel reporter’s testimony
GEORGIA–A Savannah Morning News reporter does not have to comply with a trial court’s order demanding testimony about a jailhouse interview with a murder suspect that allegedly included a confession, the state Supreme Court in Atlanta held in early March.
The court unanimously held that the Georgia shield law protects reporter Keith Paul from forced disclosure of the unpublished statements because the state failed to establish that the information was relevant, necessary for prosecution, or unobtainable from other sources. The court also found that publication of certain statements made during the interview did not constitute a waiver of the reporter’s privilege with regard to unpublished statements made in the same interview.
The case is the first since the enactment of the shield law in 1990 in which Georgia’s high court has addressed an order requiring a reporter to testify.
The court applied the three-part balancing test for overcoming the qualified reporter’s privilege for confidential and unpublished information as set out in the shield law: the information must be relevant, necessary for the presentation of the case of the party seeking the information, and unobtainable by other means.
Paul conducted a jailhouse interview with Arthur Hill, who has confessed to the 1989 murder of Annie Louise Geohaghan in Savannah, and quoted Hill in a Morning News article. After the newspaper published the article, state prosecutors subpoenaed Paul for testimony about the interview.
Prosecutors argued that they needed to question Paul about Hill’s demeanor and mental state, and a trial court in Savannah ordered Paul to answer 47 questions about the interview in 1998. The state Supreme Court granted Paul a direct appeal and overturned the trial court’s order. (In re Keith Paul; Media Counsel: James Ellington, Augusta)