Another case of a journalist being held in contempt of court for refusing to let his newsgathering product be used in a criminal trial has come to a head in California.
Santa Barbara Independent photographer Paul Wellman had taken more than 300 pictures at a murder scene back in March, and Superior Court Judge Brian Hill has ordered that he turn those over to defense counsel — despite a strong California shield law that should let such a subpoena be quashed.
The judge noted; “Those photographs might have material significance. Some of the photos may impeach the manner in which the case proceeded." Emphasis ours, of course; the judge wouldn’t want to look like he’s saying that a purely speculative interest in seeing more photos of a crime scene outweighs a journalist’s First Amendment-based interest in being independent of the judicial process, a right long recognized in California. Instead, he wants it to appear that there’s a substantive fair-trial issue at stake here.
Let’s be clear here — there’s not; the defense counsel is on a classic fishing expedition, hoping something would come up in the photos that she doesn’t know about yet. Hopefully Wellman won’t have to go to jail to make that point.