La. high court ruling strengthens reporter’s privilege
LOUISIANA — The Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans in late February clarified the state’s First Amendment journalist’s privilege, and deferred review of an appeal seeking to deny that privilege to an investigative book author.
In 1988 the court ruled that a party seeking to overcome the privilege must demonstrate that a subpoena was issued in good faith rather than for harassment, and that disclosure is necessary to the public interest. When confidential information is involved, courts must also find that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the First Amendment interest.
In its February decision, the state Supreme Court refined this test. The court instructed a lower court to determine whether there is a “compelling and overriding interest in the public disclosure” of the information. A concurring justice in the 1988 ruling had advocated the “compelling and overriding interest” standard.
The present case involves Joseph Bosco, the author of Blood Will Tell, a recently published book about a murder. Bosco has refused to testify at a hearing in which William Fontanille, convicted of manslaughter in the case, seeks a new trial.
Fontanille claims that Kerry Myers, another man convicted in the case, was improperly shown Fontanille’s statement to the police before Myers gave a statement. Myers denied this at Fontanille’s hearing for a new trial. Because Bosco interviewed Myers, Fontanille hopes that Bosco’s testimony and tapes will contradict what Myers said in court.
The trial court will consider the respective interests at a hearing in early April. The Supreme Court said that if Fontanille loses at this hearing, he may again seek appellate review of his claim that Bosco, as a book author, is not entitled to a statutory or constitutional reporter’s privilege.
(State of Louisiana v. Fontanille; Media Counsel: Sidney Cotlar, New Orleans)