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Media fights to gain access to documents, quash subpoena

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   UTAH   ·   Secret Courts   ·   June 1, 2007

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   UTAH   ·   Secret Courts   ·   June 1, 2007

Media fights to gain access to documents, quash subpoena

  • News organizations covering the rape trial of a polygamist leader have battled attorneys over courtroom access and a subpoenaed reporter.

June 1, 2007  ·   A Utah newspaper and media coalition successfully moved last week to unseal documents, keep photographers in the courtroom, and quash a subpoena to a reporter in the trial of a polygamist leader.

According to media attorney David Reymann, the group filed and argued four separate motions dealing with both courtroom access and confidential sources in the case of alleged polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is on trial in St. George, Utah, for criminal rape.

The media coalition is comprised of The Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret (Salt Lake City) Morning News, The (St. George) Spectrum, KSL-TV (NBC), KUTV (CBS), the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Utah Media Coalition, which is an informal association of Utah media outlets.

Much of the legal wrangling stemmed from Jeffs’ strange courtroom behavior — specifically when the Deseret Morning News published a courtroom photo showing a note Jeffs had written saying he was “not the Prophet,” according to the newspaper.

In an April 5 article, Deseret Morning News reporter Ben Winslow wrote that the “contents of the note were also corroborated by law enforcement sources who spoke to the Deseret Morning News on the condition of anonymity.”

That led Jeffs’ attorneys to subpoena Winslow to get him to reveal his confidential sources, and to try and get the pool photographer barred from the court – moves the newspaper and the media coalition opposed, Reymann said.

Judge James L. Shumate agreed to quash the subpoena, issued May 24 to Winslow and asking him to appear the next day in court.

“The subpoena was served 24 hours before he was required to appear hundreds of miles away,” Reymann said. “The purpose was to get him to divulge his sources, which has nothing to do with the case at all.”

Shumate also said that photographers could not be banned from the courtroom, but that he would issue an order limiting the press’ ability to take photos.

“We haven’t seen that order yet, but if it’s a prior restraint, we will oppose that,” Reymann said Thursday.

In a separate motion filed by the coalition, the judge agreed to unseal documents related to a competency hearing ordered after Jeffs displayed some strange courtroom behavior, including drooling on himself.

Shumate, “on his own motion, ordered a competency evaluation and issued an order saying that anything that was filed with the court relating to the evaluation would be under seal,” Reymann said.

Attorneys for the media coalition moved to have those documents unsealed. The judge agreed to release the sealed documents “with redaction of what he thought was unduly prejudicial, and release the unredacted version after there is a verdict in the trial,” Reymann said.

Jeffs was ultimately found competent to stand trial.

Jeffs, who is the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was arrested after being placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List Fugitives last year for alleged crimes relating to polygamist marriages. Jeffs’ church is not associated with the traditional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, which renounces polygamy.

(Utah v. Jeffs, Media Counsel: David Reymann, Parr, Waddoups, Brown, Gee & Loveless, Salt Lake City)ES

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