Judge frees sociologist who was jailed for refusing to reveal sources
WASHINGTON — In mid-October, Judge Wm. Fremming Nielsen of the U.S. District Court in Spokane ordered the release of Rik Scarce, a sociologist jailed since mid-May for refusing to answer grand jury questions about the animal liberation movement.
Judge Nielsen found that further incarceration of Scarce for civil contempt would be unlikely to coerce him to testify. As a result, the judge concluded, continued incarceration would be only punitive.
Scarce, a graduate student at Washington State University, had refused to respond to grand jury questions about his conversation with a suspect in the vandalism of animal research laboratories at the university. Scarce maintained that as a sociologist, he was entitled to a “scholar’s privilege” like the reporters privilege against disclosure of confidential sources, based on the First Amendment and the common law.
Judge Nielsen held Scarce in contempt in April. Scarce was incarcerated on May 14 after the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) upheld the judge’s order.
In mid-September the appeals court issued an opinion explaining its ruling. The court held that even if Scarce could claim a privilege like a journalist, that privilege would not extend to valid grand jury investigations.
(In re Scarce; Counsel: Jeffry K. Finer, Spokane)