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Paying the Price: A recent census of reporters jailed or fined for refusing to testify

The Reporters Committee tracks subpoena challenges and helps reporters faced with forced to testify or disclose sources and information. This list is a running tally of known jailings and fines as of 2012.

Jailed reporters:

  • 2006, Josh Wolf, San Francisco, Calif. Freelance video blogger initially jailed for a month when he refused to turn over a video tape that federal officials said contained footage of protesters damaging a police car. Wolf was released on bail on Sept. 1, but an appeals court panel confirmed the contempt order against him and Wolf returned to jail. He was finally released on April 3, 2007.
  • 2005, Judith Miller, Washington, D.C. New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to testify against news sources in the investigation into leaks of a CIA operative’s name by White House officials. She spent 85 days in jail, and was released when she agreed to provide limited testimony to the grand jury regarding conversations with vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby without revealing her other sources.
  • 2004, Jim Taricani, Providence, R.I. A WJAR television reporter obtained and aired in February 2001 a portion of the videotape showing a Providence city official accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. Taricani was subpoenaed, but refused to reveal his source and was found in civil contempt of court. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), NBC, WJAR’s network, paid $85,000 in fines. In November, Taricani was found in criminal contempt of court and a month later, was sentence to six months home confinement. He was granted early release after being confined for four months.
  • 2001, Vanessa Leggett, Houston, Texas. Author researching “true crime” book jailed for 168 days by federal judge for refusing to disclose her research and the identities of her sources to a federal grand jury investigating a murder. Leggett was freed only after the term of the grand jury expired. A subsequent grand jury indicted the key suspect in the murder without any need for her testimony. Leggett may again face a subpoena during his murder trial.
  • 2000, Timothy Crews, Red Bluff, Calif. Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher served a five-day sentence for refusing to reveal his confidential sources in a story involving the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer.
  • 1996, Bruce Anderson, Ukiah, Calif. Editor of Anderson Valley Independent found in civil contempt, jailed for total of 13 days for refusing to turn over original letter to the editor received from prisoner. After a week, he tried to turn over the letter, but judge refused to believe it was the original because it was typed. After another week, judge finally accepted that the typewritten letter was the original.
  • 1996, David Kidwell, Palm Beach County, Fla. Miami Herald reporter found in criminal contempt, sentenced to 70 days for refusing to testify for prosecution about jailhouse interview. Served 14 days before being released on own recognizance after filing federal habeas corpus petition.
  • 1994, Lisa Abraham, Warren, Ohio. Newspaper reporter jailed from Jan. 19 to February 10, for refusing to testify before a state grand jury about jailhouse interview.
  • 1991, Sid Gaulden, Schuyler Kropf, Cindi Scoppe, Andrew Shain; Columbia, South Carolina. Jailed for eight hours; released for appeal, which they lost, but trial was over. Prosecutors sought unpublished conversations with state senator on trial for corruption.
  • 1991, Felix Sanchez and James Campbell, Houston. Newspaper reporters locked in judges chambers for several hours; had refused to stand in the back of courtroom and identify possible eyewitnesses to crime. Appeal successful through habeas corpus petition.
  • 1990, Brian Karem, San Antonio. TV reporter subpoenaed by defense and prosecution; refused to reveal name of individuals who arranged jailhouse interview. Jailed for 13 days. Released when sources came forward.
  • 1990, Libby Averyt, Corpus Christi, Texas. Newspaper reporter subpoenaed for info about jailhouse interview. Jailed over a weekend; released when judge convinced she would never turn over the unpublished information sought.
  • 1990, Tim Roche, Stuart, Fla. Newspaper reporter subpoenaed to reveal source for leaked court order supposed to have been sealed. Jailed briefly, released pending appeal. Later sentenced to 30 days for criminal contempt. Served 18 days in 1993, and was released.
  • 1987, Roxana Kopetman, Los Angeles. Newspaper reporter jailed for six hours for resisting prosecution subpoena seeking eye witness testimony. Appealed; court ruled against her, but criminal case was long over.
  • 1986, Brad Stone, Detroit. TV reporter refused to reveal identities of gang members interviewed several weeks prior to cop killing. Jailed for one day; released pending appeal. Grand jury then dismissed.
  • 1986, Michael J. Burns. Reporter for The Alexandria (La.) Daily Town Talk refused to name the source who provided him a copy of a confession in a murder-for-hire case. Jailed for one day before a state appellate court stayed the order.
  • 1985, Chris Van Ness, California. Free-lancer subpoenaed in connection with John Belushi murder. Jailed for several hours; revealed source; released.
  • 1984, Richard Hargraves, Belleville, Ill. Newspaper reporter jailed over a weekend in connection with libel case. Released when source came forward.

Some lengthy imprisonments:

  • Myron Farber, NY Times, 1978, served 40 days in jail when he refused to reveal sources in criminal trial.
  • William Farr, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 1972, jailed for 46 days, for refusing to reveal sources in criminal proceedings.

Non-journalist who tried to claim an analogous researcher’s privilege: Rik Scarce — jailed in 1993 in Spokane, WA for refusing to testify before a grand jury about animal rights’ activists. Spent about 5 months in jail (October to May) and then released, because trial judge convinced he would never testify.


Fines imposed on journalists found in contempt for protecting sources or unpublished information

This list is not complete; anyone with additional information on fines paid by journalists or media companies should forward it to hotline -at-

  • 1975, $500 fine against Mary Jo Tierney, Cocoa Today, refused to testify before grand jury; civil contempt upheld, but no jailing because grand jury had expired.
  • 1978, $1,000 against Myron Farber, $100,000 against NY Times (criminal contempt), plus $5,000 (per day) against Times while Farber in jail. He eventually served 40 days of 6-month sentence for refusing to reveal sources in criminal trial, and the Times paid $185,000 in civil contempt fines. Contempt convictions stood until Farber was pardoned by Gov. Brendan Byrne of New Jersey, and the Times got back the $101,000 in criminal contempt fines.
  • 1979, $5000 fine (per day) against KHON-TV (Honolulu) and $100 a day against Scott Shirai, refused to i.d. sources in libel case; this was requested by plaintiff; unknown whether it was in fact imposed by the court.
  • 1979, $250 (per day) against Bob Hiles of Mansfield, Ohio News Journal, for refusing to disclose source of info about grand jury proceedings; fine suspended after 4 days; contempt reversed by appeals court.
  • 1979, $100 (per day) against David Chandler of Norfolk Ledger-Star for refusing to disclose sources to grand jury; suspended pendig appeal; day before argument in state Supreme Court, trial judge dropped contempt order.
  • 1979, $250 fine against Pamela O’Shaughnessy of Brooklyn’s Kings Courier for refusing to identify undercover source during drug trial; stay granted pending appeal; appellate division reversed.
  • 1980, $1.00 (per day) against CBS for refusing to turn over notes and tapes to criminal defendant who had been subject of a 60 Minutes report; upheld by appeals court; let stand by SCOTUS (this is one of the “Cuthbertson” cases).
  • 1981, $100 fine against Mark McKinnon, editor of UT paper, The Daily Texan, for refusing to turn over unpublished photos of demonstration.
  • 1981, $500 (per day) fine against Ellen Marks and the Idaho Statesman, for refusing to reveal hiding place of source involved in child custody dispute; a total of $36,000 in fines paid; in 1983, state supreme court found there is no privilege; unknown whether fines ever remitted.
  • 1982, $500 against Barry Smith of Durango Herald and Dave Tragethon of KIUP-KRSJ radio for refusing to answer questions about sources in criminal trial; stayed pending appeal; appellate court refused to lift criminal contempt and made them pay and serve 2 days in jail, but civil contempt dismissed.
  • 1982, $500 against Nick Lamberto of Des Moines Register, for refusing to turn over notes in civil damage suit.
  • 1982, $100 (per day) against Robin Traywick of Richmond Times-Dispatch for refusing to i.d. confidential sources to grand jury. She accumulated $1,400 in fines. She eventually testified, but never revealed any of her sources.
  • 1983, $500 against James Wright of Daily Idahonian for refusing to reveal confidential source in criminal trial; later judge imposed $500 (per day) fine, stayed pending appeal; in May 1985, state Supreme Court ruled Idaho Constitution gives qualified privilege to reporters.
  • 1985, $1000 against freelancer Christopher Van Ness who refused to releas tape of conversation with Cathy Smith about John Belushi death at preliminary hearing; also sentenced to 10 days in jail; turned over tape after serving a day.
  • 1987, $300 fine against Oregonian editor Bill Hilliard for refusing to turn over unpublished photos of anti-nuclear rally to defendants; court of appeals reversed and voided fine, finding photos unnecessary.
  • 1988, $100 (per day) with $1000 maximum against Roxana Kopetman of LA Times; in 1990, state Supreme Court ruled reporter must testify.
  • 1991, $500 (each) against James Campbell of Houston Chronicle and Felix Sanchez of Houston Post for refusing to i.d. sources who might attend a criminal trial; federal district judge reversed.
  • 1992, $2,000 per day, plus $4,000 gov’t’s legal fees, against Susan Smallheer and Rutland (VT) Herald. Sought interview with prison escapee. State high court ruled prospective contempt fines and atty fees improper.
  • 1996, $500 ($240 per day for 2 days) against Minnesota Daily, university newspaper, for refusing to turn over photos.
  • 1996, $500, David Kidwell, Miami Herald, criminal contempt with 70 day sentence for failing to testify for prosecution about jailhouse interview.