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Reporters in Utah feel lack of shield law

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From the Summer 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 13.

From the Summer 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 13.

A reporter for The Spectrum daily newspaper in St. George, Utah, was forced to testify on April 30 about a jailhouse confession from a murder defendant.

Two other journalists also faced subpoenas in recent months in Utah, which has no shield law protecting reporters from disclosing confidential sources or unpublished material.

Some media attorneys and press advocates say the cases represent a trend toward using reporters as an easy source of evidence in Utah.

A shield law is needed, but the state legislature would not be receptive to one and no media groups are pushing for the change, said Joel Campbell, legislative monitor for the Utah Press Association and a journalism professor at Brigham Young University.

A shield law would make it more difficult and more expensive for prosecutors and others to try to obtain evidence from a journalist, said Tim Anderson, an attorney for The Spectrum.

“The prosecutor may feel compelled to look elsewhere before he starts bothering newspapers,” Anderson said.

Amie Rose, a reporter for The Spectrum, was subpoenaed by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the murder trial of Claudio Mauricio Martinez, who was accused of killing and robbing a barber in October 2001.

A confession letter purportedly written by Martinez was sent to Rose at the newspaper. She interviewed Martinez at the jail in February to verify that the letter came from him, then wrote a story based on the interview.

Fifth District Judge Robert Braithwaite in St. George ruled against the newspaper’s motions to quash the subpoena. The judge decided that the prosecution’s need for the testimony outweighed Rose’s reasons against testifying, especially since she was not protecting a confidential source, said Spectrum attorney Jeff Judd.

Rose testified that Martinez confessed to her, told her that he wanted to plead guilty and that he wanted whatever punishment the victim’s wife wanted, the Associated Press reported.

Braithwaite would not allow attorneys to question Rose about newsroom decisions about the story, Judd said.

After Rose testified, defense attorneys subpoenaed The Spectrum‘s editor, managing editor and publisher for all records and notes regarding the story. That subpoena fizzled when Martinez pleaded guilty to a reduced sentence, Judd said.

In a separate case, a reporter for The Deseret News in Salt Lake City was ordered to testify before a Massachusetts state agency that was investigating whether Republican Mitt Romney was eligible to run for governor.

In a story published on April 11, 2000, Lisa Riley Roche quoted Romney as saying that Utah was his primary residence for tax purposes. Romney is former president of the group that organized the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Massachusetts Democrats argued the story was evidence that Romney could not meet the seven-year residency requirement to run for governor in that state. They subpoenaed Roche in June to testify before the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission.

Third District Judge Ronald Nehring in Salt Lake City ruled that Roche had to testify, but he agreed to allow her to submit an affidavit attesting to the accuracy of the story, said Deseret News attorney Jeff Hunt.

A third case involved a subpoena from Juab County prosecutors against freelance writer Carolyn Campbell, who interviewed polygamist Tom Green in 1986 for a magazine story about polygamy.

Prosecutors believed Campbell had information that would help them prove a child rape charge against Green, who was accused of impregnating a 13-year-old who later became his wife. Prosecutors had to prove that the child, who was born in 1986, was conceived in Utah.

Prosecutors dropped the subpoena against Campbell and decided they could win their case without her. A judge convicted Green on June 24. — MD