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Judge quashes subpoena against newspaper reporter

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Mar 22, 2002    

Judge quashes subpoena against newspaper reporter

  • A Texas bank wanted testimony and documents from a Washington, D.C., correspondent for a Mexican newspaper, but a federal magistrate judge said the subpoena was just “a fishing expedition.”

A reporter for a Mexican newspaper does not have to testify or produce all the documents she used in writing a story about a draft government report that linked a Texas bank and its owners to drug trafficking, a federal magistrate judge ruled March 19.

Laredo National Bank’s subpoena seeking records and testimony from El Financiero reporter Dolia Estevez “appears to be nothing more than a fishing expedition,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Welton Curtis Sewell ruled in Alexandria, Va.

The bank did not show that the information it sought from Estevez was relevant, that it could not obtain the information elsewhere or that it had a compelling need for the information, Sewell ruled.

Estevez, who lives in Virginia and is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for El Financiero, wrote in May 1999 about a federal drug investigation called “Operation White Tiger” and a draft government report that linked the bank and its Mexican owners to drug trafficking.

The bank and its officials argued they needed information from Estevez for a lawsuit they filed in federal district court in Ohio against Donald Schulz, chairman of the political science department at Cleveland State University.

The bank is accusing Schulz of infiltrating Operation White Tiger, planting lies in the government’s draft report and distributing the tainted report to journalists, including Estevez. The lawsuit says government officials later disavowed the report.

The bank wanted 23 items of information from Estevez, including all documents, correspondence and e-mails she exchanged with her sources. The bank also wanted to know whether she and other reporters who wrote about the drug investigation provided documents to each other while they were writing their stories.

The bank argued that the information from Estevez would allow it to determine how she obtained a copy of the draft White Tiger report, why she wrote the story and whether she should be added as a defendant.

The judge ruled that it was evident from the bank’s arguments that the bank and bank officials “already are aware of how Estevez obtained a copy of the White Tiger Report, and with whom she had conversations regarding the report.”

The bank also has subpoenaed other journalists: Jamie Dettmer, senior editor of Insight, the weekly magazine of The Washington Times; Tracy Eaton of The Dallas Morning News; and Christopher Whalen, an investment banker and freelance writer. Their objections to the subpoenas have not been resolved.

(Laredo National Bancshares, Inc. v. Schulz; Media counsel for Estevez: Richard M. Goehler, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio) MD

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