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Reporter complies with order after high court denies appeal

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jun 27, 2000    

Reporter complies with order after high court denies appeal

  • After unsuccessful appeals, a San Diego reporter charged with contempt of court turned over a declaration of unpublished statements to comply with a court order.

After exhausting all of his appeals, J. Harry Jones, a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, complied with a court order to turn over unpublished “statements” from an interview he had conducted with a man who had admitted to committing a triple-murder.

Jones had interviewed Jacob Henderson after Henderson had been arrested for assault in July, 1999, and then confessed to murdering three men earlier in the decade. In his interview with Jones, Henderson said that he had lied about the triple-murder so that he would be eligible for the death penalty instead of spending life in prison under California’s “three-strikes” law.

At his criminal trial, Henderson’s attorney subpoenaed Jones’ notes from the interview he had conducted with Henderson. When Jones did not comply with the subpoena, he was held in contempt of court in Superior Court in San Diego. Jones was given until June 27 to comply with the subpoena or else be sentenced to jail until the end of Henderson’s trial.

Jones and the Union-Tribune appealed the order to the California Supreme Court, which denied the appeal without comment on June 26.

The California Supreme Court has previously held that although the state has a strong shield law that is written into the constitution, the privilege not to testify can be overcome when a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial outweighs a journalist’s interests in nondisclosure of information.

Reading the trial court’s order narrowly, Jones submitted to the court a “declaration of unpublished statements” from the interview, said Jones’ co-counsel Harold Fuson. Because the court demanded that Jones only turn over unpublished “statements” from the interview, and not his notes specifically, Jones wrote what he termed a “declaration” of unpublished statements made by Henderson to him during the interview and turned that declaration over to the court the morning of June 27. The court accepted Jones’ declaration and entered it into the record as having complied with the subpoena.

(California v. Henderson; Media Counsel: Guylyn Cummins and Harold Fuson, San Diego) JM

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