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Reporter ordered to testify as material witness in sheriff’s killing

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         GEORGIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb 11, 2002    

Reporter ordered to testify as material witness in sheriff’s killing

  • A Georgia county prosecutor argued that former GQ magazine writer Mary Fischer was not acting as a journalist when she passed a message from one suspect to another.

A former writer for GQ magazine has been ordered to testify as a material witness on Feb. 19 before a grand jury investigating the murder of a Georgia sheriff-elect.

A prosecutor in DeKalb County, Ga., said Mary Fischer, who was preparing a story about the murder case, stepped out of her newsgathering role when she attended a dinner among suspects in the killing of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown and passed a message from one suspect to another.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Wesley agreed that Fischer, a California resident, is a material witness. Wesley ruled on Feb. 5 that Fischer must appear before the grand jury in Georgia that is investigating the role of former DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey in Brown’s killing.

Brown defeated Dorsey in an election in August 2000. Brown was shot in his driveway four months later.

Former Deputy Sheriff Patrick Cuffy, a co-conspirator cooperating with prosecutors, has testified in Georgia about the March 2001 dinner with Fischer in Atlanta. Cuffy said Fischer whispered in his ear during the dinner that “Sid is up in my room, and he wants to talk to you. Act casual,” said Jeanne Canavan, senior assistant district attorney for DeKalb County.

Prosecutors need Fischer’s testimony to corroborate Cuffy’s statement and to link Dorsey to the other suspects, Canavan said. They are not seeking the reporter’s notes, Canavan said.

Fischer’s attorney, Kelli Sager, said she could not comment on what Fischer would do in reaction to Wesley’s order.

Sager had argued that the judge should decide whether California’s shield law, which protects journalists from compelled testimony, would apply to Fischer. The judge said that was an issue for the courts in Georgia, which also has a shield law.

(In the matter of Mary Fischer; Media counsel: Kelli Sager, Davis Wright Tremaine, Los Angeles) MD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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