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Jailed author appeals to Supreme Court; seeks immediate release

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         TEXAS         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jan 2, 2002    

Jailed author appeals to Supreme Court; seeks immediate release

  • Vanessa Leggett’s appeal argued that a subpoena seeking disclosure of confidential sources violates her journalist’s privilege under the First Amendment.

A book author who has spent 166 days in jail asked the U.S. Supreme Court this week to review her case and is asking a federal judge in Texas to release her immediately from the Federal Detention Center in Houston.

Vanessa Leggett was jailed on July 20 for refusing to divulge confidential sources to a federal grand jury. Her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Clark both say that she will be released from jail on Friday, when the term of the grand jury ends.

However, DeGeurin has asked the U.S. District Court judge who ordered Leggett jailed to release her on Jan. 3, the last day the grand jury will meet.

“They don’t meet on Fridays, and therefore to hold her another day even though they’re not meeting would be kind of mean-spirited,” DeGeurin said.

Clark said federal prosecutors cannot ask for another extension of the grand jury that subpoenaed Leggett’s book research into the murder of a Houston socialite. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not decided whether to ask another grand jury to subpoena Leggett, although “that’s always an option,” Clark said.

Even if Leggett is released, the Supreme Court should review her case because she is likely to face another subpoena, DeGeurin argued in the appeal to the high court.

The appeal also urges 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, the appeal says.

The appeal also argues that the subpoena, which sought all copies of Leggett’s four years of research, would leave her unable to work on the book. As such, the subpoena amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint, the appeal says.

The appeal was mailed on Dec. 31 to the court, which does not have to accept the case.

(In re Grand Jury Subpoenas; Author’s counsel: Mike DeGeurin, Foreman, DeGeurin, Nugent & Gerger, Houston) MD

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