Tennessee’s shield law may be put to the test if blogger Thaddeus Matthews is subpoenaed in connection to a leak surrounding a police officer’s murder.
Although no subpoena has been issued, Matthews has gained the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal counsel today in the case he is confronted with one.
On Feb. 3 Matthews posted a statement of 18-year-old Dexter D. Cox, who has been charged with killing Memphis Police Department officer Edward Vidulich. The Shelby County District Attorney’s office launched an investigation two days later to find out who leaked the information to Matthews. This investigation included going to Matthews’ office and asking the blogger who gave the statement to him, said Bruce Kramer, a lawyer with the ACLU who is representing Matthews.
“I’ll never give up my sources,” Matthews said. “We’ll take this as far as they want to take it. I invite the subpoena.”
A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, Jennifer Donnals, said any talk of a subpoena has been generated by the local media, and that the office has not officially said it will issue one.
“When information about an investigation is released to the public before a case goes to trial, it will obviously taint a jury pool,” Donnals said. “We want to make sure Dexter has a fair trial, and this information out there might hamper that.”
If Matthews does end up fighting a subpoena, it would be the first test of who is covered by Tennessee’s shield law, which includes a broad definition of a journalist that clearly includes bloggers, according to Kramer and Lucian Pera, legal counsel for The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
“It doesn’t make a difference if it’s Scripps-Howard, The New York Times or a blogger,” Kramer said, while noting he thinks it’s unlikely Matthews will receive a subpoena. “They all disseminate information.”