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Court will not hear media cases; reporter heads to jail

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From the Fall 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 10.

From the Fall 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 10.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 2 without comment declined to review a Maryland journalist’s conviction for violating child pornography laws while he allegedly researched a news story on the prevalence of such material on the Internet. (See NM&L, Spring 2000)

Freelance journalist Larry Matthews was indicted by a federal grand jury in Greenbelt, Md., in December 1996 on charges of trafficking in pornographic images of children. He was scheduled to go on trial in July 1998, but he conditionally pleaded guilty to one count of receiving and one count of transporting pornographic depictions of minors after the judge refused to allow him to raise his First Amendment argument before the jury, which left him without a defense. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) upheld the trial court’s decision in April.

Matthews’ 18-month sentence had been stayed pending appeal. (U.S. v. Matthews)

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The court also declined to review an appeal by federal prison officials who argued they are immune from liability in a lawsuit by a prisoner who was moved to “administrative detention” to keep him from talking to the news media in November 1988. Brett Kimberlin had been scheduled to hold a telephone press conference with journalists gathered in a Washington, D.C., hotel the day before the presidential election about his allegations that he had once sold drugs to then Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle. The claim must now go to trial. (Quinlan v. Kimberlin)

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More than a year after his arrest, former Colorado Daily staff reporter Brian Hansen learned that he will not have to face a six-month jail sentence or $5,000 fine.

A federal magistrate in late August dismissed charges stemming from his reporting on an environmental protest. The dismissal followed a motion to drop the case filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Hansen was swept up in arrests after environmental activists set up a blockade of Vail Mountain’s Mill Creek Road in July 1999 in an attempt to hinder a resort’s expansion project. (See NM&L, Summer 2000; Summer 1999)

Weeks before the dismissal, Hanson had turned down a plea bargain offered by the prosecution under which the charges would be dismissed in exchange for his promise to keep the Justice Department appraised of his whereabouts for six months. Hansen said the deal was too limiting, and would be an admission of guilt. He faced six months in jail or a $5,000 fine if the case had gone to trial.

Hansen said that prosecutors argued at a preliminary hearing in May that Hansen was acting more like a protester than a journalist and that his previous articles suggested a bias against Vail and the Forest Service. (Colorado v. Hansen)