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Newspaper learns of subpoena for its phone records too late to protest

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         INDIANA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Nov 24, 1999    

Newspaper learns of subpoena for its phone records too late to protest

  • A state trial judge approved a subpoena for a Muncie newspaper’s telephone records without notifying the newspaper, leaving it unable to object to a disclosure that apparently revealed the identity of an anonymous source.

In late October, The (Muncie) Star Press learned that a state trial judge approved a subpoena for its telephone records in April after concluding that the Muncie Police Department’s need to find a missing homicide file was “paramount” to any interest the newspaper might have in keeping its phone records confidential.

Muncie trial Judge Steven R. Caldemeyer approved the grand jury subpoena issued to the telephone company Ameritech for the newspaper’s records, covering a span of nine hours on April 6 and 7, several months before the newspaper became aware of the subpoena. The newspaper had no opportunity to argue against or appeal Caldemeyer’s ruling.

The Star Press on April 6 and 7 received anonymous telephone calls and a fax that described the disappearance of a Muncie Police Department file on an unsolved homicide. It was only when the Muncie Police-Fire Merit Commission held hearings in connection with the file’s disappearance and determined that Officer Brian Fox made the telephone calls and sent the fax to the newspaper that the newspaper learned of the existence of the subpoena.

The newspaper and Fox’s attorney have expressed concern over whether the subpoena, which Caldemeyer approved as a grand jury subpoena, can properly be characterized as a grand jury subpoena because no grand jury heard testimony in the case. However, Larry Lough, editor of The Star Press, said that the newspaper is still considering its options, despite its inability to appeal the ruling, such as seeking judicial review of the law that allows the prosecutor such easy access to the records or trying to change the law.

According to the Associated Press, Caldemeyer said, “It really troubles me when I see what appears to be a murder investigation compromised. I don’t give a damn if it’s the newspaper or not.”

The Commission voted to fire Fox, but Fox has not been charged with taking the file.

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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