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Reporter ordered to reveal source in leak lawsuit

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   MISSISSIPPI   ·   Confidentiality/Privilege   ·   June 13, 2005

Reporter ordered to reveal source in leak lawsuit

  • A newspaper reporter’s qualified privilege to refuse to disclose her confidential source was overcome because all other reasonable means of identifying the source had been exhausted, a state trial judge ruled.

June 13, 2005  ·   A Mississippi trial judge last week ordered reporter Ann Radelat of The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger to disclose a confidential source in a lawsuit over a leaked Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics memo. Circuit Judge Robert W. Bailey of Meridian, Miss., found that Radelat’s qualified privilege to refuse to disclose her source had been overcome.

“The Court is of the opinion that the Plaintiffs have exhausted all reasonable means of identifying the source of Ms. Radelat’s information,” Bailey wrote in a June 8 memorandum opinion. “Obtaining affidavits from every person who may have in the realm of imagination had access to the memo is not the definition of reasonable efforts. The Plaintiffs have obtained testimony from all of those who were provided the memo by [the author] and some of those persons who may have had access to the memo.”

Bailey also found that the plaintiffs met the other requirements for overcoming the privilege by alleging that the leaked memo was defamatory and that the disclosure of the source is relevant to their case.

The lawsuit arose from an April 18, 2003, story by Radelat, based on a confidential narcotics bureau memo about allegations of wrongdoing by its agents. Two of the named agents, Earl Pierce and Jimmy Saxton, sued former Director Frank Melton, whom they allege leaked the memo to Radelat, and agent Warren Buchanan, whom they allege was the confidential source of the allegations detailed in the memo. The lawsuit claims intentional infliction of emotional distress, and according to Pierce and Saxton’s attorney, Mike Farrell, is expected to be amended Tuesday to include claims for defamation and libel.

All individuals known to have received a copy of the memo from author Roy Sanderfer, including Melton, denied under oath that they were Radelat’s source. Five other agents, including Buchanan, also denied under oath that they were the source.

Radelat’s attorney, Leonard Van Slyke, argued that all possible sources, including secretaries who may have had access to the memo, had not been questioned under oath.

An investigation by state auditors, completed in March, cleared Pierce and Saxton of wrongdoing. Melton, a former television executive, is the mayor-elect of Jackson, Miss., and will take office in July.

Van Slyke said that a decision had not been made on whether to appeal the ruling.

(Pierce v. Melton, Media Counsel: Leonard Van Slyke, Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, Jackson, Miss.)GP

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