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Howell v. Harden

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

Case Number: CL20002006-00

Court: Circuit Court for Arlington County, Virginia

Client: Zachary Petrizzo

Motion to Quash Subpoena Filed: July 28, 2020

Background: Months after writing a story for The Daily Dot about Republican operative Jack Burkman, freelance journalist Zachary Petrizzo received a subpoena seeking a broad array of documents, records and information related to the article — including confidential communications with his sources.

The subpoena was part of a defamation lawsuit filed by former RT journalist Margaret Howell against Burkman’s son and estranged wife. Howell alleged, among other things, that the defendants provided false information to Petrizzo for his article.

On behalf of Petrizzo, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to quash the subpoena. They argued that the subpoena is unduly burdensome and requests information that is protected by the reporters’ privilege under the First Amendment.

Quote: “[G]iven the breadth of the Subpoena targeting Mr. Petrizzo’s privileged journalistic materials, and the fact that the Plaintiff issued the Subpoena before making any attempt to seek any discovery, whatsoever, from Defendants, it appears that the Subpoena was issued primarily to burden and harass a non-party journalist who accurately reported on issues of significant public concern — conduct that the reporter’s privilege is intended to protect against.”

Update: On Nov. 2, 2020, Judge Judith L. Wheat of Virginia’s 17th Judicial Circuit granted the motion to quash the subpoena filed against Petrizzo. The judge noted that a new subpoena could be filed if Howell can establish that she has exhausted all other ways of obtaining the information — and if the reason for disclosing Petrizzo’s records is sufficient to overcome the reporter’s privilege.

Filings:

2020-06-30: Subpoena

2020-07-28: Motion to quash

2020-08-17: Opposition to motion to quash

2020-08-26: Reply in support of motion to quash

2020-11-02: Court order to quash subpoena