NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · SECOND CIRCUIT · Confidentiality/Privilege · Jan. 29, 2007
Reporter ordered deposed in lawsuit
Jan. 29, 2007 · A federal judge in Connecticut has denied a reporter’s request to be excused from a deposition, saying the journalist must be questioned in the lawsuit of a woman who has sued town officials for allegedly leaking the amount of a confidential settlement.
The reporter, MaryEllen Fillo of The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, requested that U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall dismiss her subpoena because Fillo does not have any information “of likely relevance to the plaintiff’s claims,” according to her motion to quash the subpoena.
The judge denied her request on the grounds that the deposition might yield information important to the plaintiff’s case, and that Fillo is not protected by a reporter’s privilege because the case does not involve a confidential source.
Elaine Boland, a former assistant town clerk of Newington, Conn., subpoenaed Fillo to find out who leaked the settlement documents. Boland settled an age discrimination case with the town in 2003, the terms of which were to remain confidential.
Boland claims in court papers that someone leaked the amount of her settlement in retaliation for her appointment to a seat on the town’s Police Department Building Committee in 2004. She believes that a Town Council member might be responsible, perhaps angry that she received such a position after her earlier suit against the town.
In August 2004, Fillo wrote an article for the Courant that disclosed the amount of the settlement paid to Boland. Fillo does not claim that she relied upon a confidential source because the information was already available to the public in the Newington Finance Department. The fact and amount of the settlement had been reported to the department in 2003 as part of a letter from the town’s insurance carrier.
An earlier subpoena for Fillo’s deposition regarding the case, served in April, was dismissed because Boland had only deposed two of the council members. Fillo argued successfully that her privilege as a journalist exempted her from a deposition because Boland had not made sufficient efforts to obtain the source of the alleged leak from other sources.
The new subpoena against Fillo came in November, after Boland had deposed 13 individuals related to the case, including the former mayor of Newington and current and former Town Council members.
In denying Fillo’s request to quash the second subpoena, the judge apparently relied on Boland’s actions in determining whether the information was relevant. He pointed out that after deposing 13 people, Boland must believe that Fillo has information that is relevant to her case.
Fillo claims that she has no recollection of the identity or identifying characteristics of the person who provided the relevant information. She states in an affidavit that she learned of the settlement from one or more people at an open Town Council meeting.
Bill Fish, Fillo’s attorney, explained that he views the entire process as a victory despite the judge’s decision because the “qualified privilege that protects reporters was vindicated” when the first subpoena was dismissed.
There are no deposition dates set in the case, and Fillo is not likely to challenge the judge’s decision, but the possibility has not been ruled out, according to her attorney.
(Boland v. Town of Newington, Media Counsel: William S. Fish, Jr. and Paul Guggina, Tyler Cooper & Alcorn LLP, Hartford, Conn.) — LM