Stressing that New York has a "mantle of protection" for journalists' confidential sources that "has been recognized as the strongest in the nation," the New York Court of Appeals today quashed a subpoena served on Fox News reporter Jana Winter for her source for a story on James Holmes, the Colorado theater shooting suspect.
The subpoena had been issued by the defense in the Colorado criminal trial, but had to be served on Winter through New York courts. The New York high court's decision noted that Colorado law provides substantially less protection, and under it, Winter may well be compelled to identify her source, which places enforcement of the subpoena in conflict with New York law.
"We therefore conclude that an order from a New York court directing a reporter to appear in another state where, as here, there is a substantial likelihood that she will be compelled to identify sources who have been promised confidentiality would offend our strong public policy — a common law, statutory and constitutional tradition that has played a significant role in this State becoming the media capital of the country if not the world," the court held.
The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 38 media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of Winter, arguing precisely what the court held today — that New York's laws, public policy and traditions warrant protecting Winter from being compelled to reveal her source in Colorado.
Holmes' defense team had subpoenaed Winter to testify about who gave her confidential information about a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist days before he allegedly opened fire on a crowded movie theater last July, killing 12 people.
Roger Ailes, Chairman & CEO of Fox News, hailed the victory in a statement released by the company. “Today's ruling is a major win for all journalists,” he said. “The protection of Jana Winter's confidential sources was necessary for the survival of journalism and democracy as a whole. We are very grateful that the highest court in New York State agreed with our position.”