Reporter must testify after court narrows shield law protections
NEVADA–A Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter waived the privilege provided under the Nevada shield law when he identified and quoted a source in published articles, and consequently must testify about that source’s identity and about the contents of statements made by that source at a deposition in a wrongful death case, a split three-justice panel of the state Supreme Court in Carson City ruled in mid-April.
The panel found that the shield law — a law that by its express language protects both published and unpublished materials along with confidential materials that are obtained during newsgathering — reasonably can be interpreted as not protecting “non-confidential published information” because in the statute the word “published” refers not to information in general, but to the source of information only.
The state’s highest court ordered reporter Glenn Puit to answer questions at a deposition regarding whether statements Puit attributed to a Nevada Highway Patrol officer were, in fact, made by the officer and whether those published statements accurately reflected the officer’s words. The articles in which Puit quoted the officer described a 1996 automobile accident that left five people dead.
The court determined that by identifying the officer as the source of certain statements in published articles, Puit waived any privilege provided by the shield law to protect the identity of his named source or to protect the contents of published statements made by that named source.
Various relatives of the crash victims brought wrongful death claims against the state, the Nevada Highway Patrol, a towing company, and others. When the officer quoted by Puit testified at the wrongful death trial that he did not recall making the statements attributed to him in the newspaper, the relatives sought to depose Puit.
At his deposition, Puit asserted the shield law privilege and refused to answer questions. A discovery commissioner and a trial judge subsequently refused to compel Puit’s testimony, citing the protection afforded by the shield law and the First Amendment.
The state’s highest court then ordered Puit to appear at a deposition and verify the identity of the quoted highway patrol source and the content of that source’s statements. The state Supreme Court, however, also denied requests for additional discovery beyond the verification of the officer’s statements. The court specifically stated that tape recordings and notes from Puit’s interview of the officer were protected from disclosure.
Justice William Maupin dissented from the opinion of the court, stating only that “this court’s intervention by way of extraordinary relief is not warranted at this time.”
Puit and the newspaper said that they are planning to request that the state Supreme Court rehear the matter. (Diaz v. Eighth Judicial District Court; Media Counsel: Kevin Doty, Las Vegas)