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How Josh Wolf became the longest-jailed journalist

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From the Winter 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 16. July 8, 2005: Independent journalist Josh…

From the Winter 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 16.

July 8, 2005: Independent journalist Josh Wolf covers an anarchist protest in San Francisco meant to coincide with the Group of Eight summit in Scotland. During the protest, a city police officer suffers a fractured skull and a city police car is damaged.

July 9: Wolf posts video of the protest on his blog,, and later sells a portion of the video to a local television station, KRON-TV. Other stations air the video without permission, but later pay Wolf for the footage after he sends them bills.

July 11: Wolf is questioned at his home by investigators from the FBI and the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

Jan. 12, 2006: Wolf is subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. The subpoena orders him to bring along all documents and recordings related to the protest activities.

Feb. 15: Wolf files court papers to quash the subpoena, saying the subpoena is being used improperly in connection with a state investigation; that the government cannot meet the burdens of Branzburg v. Hayes, the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case addressing a reporter’s privilege; and that the subpoena violates Wolf’s rights under the First and 14th Amendments.

April 5: Magistrate Judge Maria Elena James declines to quash the subpoena.

June 15: Wolf appears before the grand jury but refuses to cooperate, according to court filings.

Aug. 1: U.S. District Judge William Alsup finds Wolf in civil contempt of court and orders him to prison immediately. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press files a friend-of-the-court brief that is joined by the WIW Freedom to Write Fund and the Society of Professional Journalists. The American Civil Liberties Union files a separate brief on behalf of Wolf.

Aug. 31: A federal appeals court in San Francisco (9th Cir.) grants Wolf bail while his case is on appeal.

Sept. 1: Wolf is released after serving 30 days in prison.

Sept. 8: A panel of three federal appellate judges affirm the lower court’s contempt order.

Sept. 18: The federal appeals court agrees to revoke Wolf’s bail at prosecutors’ request.

Sept. 22: Wolf returns to prison.

Nov. 16: A three-judge panel denies Wolf’s motion to have the case heard by the entire federal appeals court.

Jan. 22, 2007: Wolf’s attorneys file a motion for his release, arguing that the civil contempt charge will not coerce him to testify and that the grand jury is no longer truly investigating the crime about which his testimony was demanded.

Jan. 30: Alsup denies Wolf’s motion to be released from prison.

Feb. 6: Wolf spends his 169th day in prison, surpassing Vanessa Leggett as the journalist to spend the most time in prison or jail on contempt of court charges. — ES