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Journalist protected by state shield law in federal court

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         FLORIDA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Nov 12, 2002    

Journalist protected by state shield law in federal court

  • A district court judge found that a television reporter will not have to testify in a lawsuit by a police officer against her employer.

A Jacksonville journalist will not be forced to discuss whether he was prompted by a member of the Jacksonville police force to run a story about a fellow officer, after a federal judge in Jacksonville applied the protection of the state shield law in the federal case.

Stephanie Green, a Jacksonville police officer, is suing the police department claiming that the department retaliated against her for filing an unlawful employment practices complaint against the department. Green claims they retaliated by feeding a negative story about her to Winston Dean, a television reporter with Jacksonville’s WTLV.

Dean claimed he was protected by the state shield law, which requires that before a reporter is forced to testify, the plaintiff must aggressively seek the information from a source other than the reporter. This rule is meant to protect the reporter from divulging his source.

In a Nov. 5 decision, a Florida district court in Jacksonville found that Green “failed to take advantage of all reasonable means to determine the identity” of the individual who provided Green with the information required. Green did not attempt to find out, by interviewing her superiors, whether they had approached Dean and asked him to run the story about Green.

The court stated that under Florida law, the plaintiff must meet a “heavy burden” in order to overcome the privilege that journalists have in the eyes of the law with respect to revealing their sources.

(Green v. Office of the Sheriff’s Office, Consolidated City of Jacksonville; George Gabel Jr.: Holland & Knight, Jacksonville) GS

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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