Judge quashes tobacco company subpoena
VIRGINIA — Judge Paul Sheridan of the state circuit court in Arlington in late July quashed a subpoena through which the Brown & Williamson tobacco company sought documents from USA Today.
In early and mid-May, USA Today and several other news organizations published articles based on revelations said to come from internal Brown & Williamson documents. The information suggested that since 1963 Brown & Williamson might have known that tobacco imperiled health and was addictive, while representing to the public that no such problems existed.
Meanwhile, Brown & Williamson was engaged in civil litigation in Kentucky against a former paralegal of the company’s law firm. Brown & Williamson claims that the former paralegal wrongfully took and photocopied company documents.
At Brown & Williamson’s request, in mid-May the Arlington circuit court issued a subpoena for company documents in the possession of USA Today.
When USA Today refused to cooperate, Brown & Williamson asked the court to order compliance. The court refused, holding that under Virginia case law confidential press materials are protected from civil litigants unless the information is crucial to a claim.
The court found that Brown & Williamson neither demonstrated a need for the information, nor exhausted other means of obtaining it.
USA Today’s briefing included a supporting affidavit from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In a related proceeding, in early June the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. quashed a Brown & Williamson subpoena to two congressmen. The court held that the congressmen were protected by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.
(Maddox v. Williams; Media Counsel: Robert Sack, New York; Theodore Olson, Theodore Boutrous Jr., Washington)