The Ohio Supreme Court is set to decide whether a reporter will be forced to testify in a lawyer’s disciplinary hearing.
While Ohio has a shield statute that protects journalists from having to reveal sources of information in court, the state has not yet determined whether the reporter’s privilege extends into quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, according to court filings.
Attorney Larry Shenise was quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal as saying that his 80-year-old client was arrested after failing to show up to a civil hearing because the court did not notify Shenise of the hearing. The judge in that trial, Paul Gallagher, filed a grievance against Shenise with the Akron Bar Association. Shenise then replied that he was misquoted in the story.
The Akron Bar Association subpoenaed the newspaper’s reporter, Phil Trexler, to testify at the disciplinary hearing. The reporter submitted an affidavit saying his story was accurate but refused to testify, which led the bar association to request that the Ohio Supreme Court hold Trexler in contempt for refusing to testify.
The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the parties to file responses explaining why Trexler should or should not be held in contempt. Judge Paul Pfeifer, who dissented to that order along with two other justices, said “[t]his whole matter has led to a tremendous waste of resources at all levels.”
Judge Pfeifer went on to say, “Exerting the judiciary’s authority over the press is a significant matter, and that power should be employed as sparingly as possible, and certainly never in circumstances as trivial as these.”