A federal District Court judge on October 21 ordered the temporary release of a Miami Herald reporter who had been jailed for contempt of a state court when he refused to testify about a jailhouse interview with a murder defendant.
Reporter David Kidwell filed an emergency habeas corpus petition with the federal District Court in Miami seeking his release from the Palm Beach County jail in mid-October. Kidwell was sentenced on October 7 to 70 days in jail and a $500 fine when he refused to testify for the prosecution in preparation for the retrial of John Zile, who is accused of killing his stepdaughter.
In ordering Kidwell’s release, the federal judge stated that proceedings on the merits of Kidwell’s petition would be stayed pending the exhaustion of state appellate proceedings. Kidwell could be sent back to jail if the appeals are unsuccessful. An explanatory decision promised by the District Court has not yet been released.
Kidwell is appealing Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Roger Colton’s ruling that the First Amendment does not protect him from being compelled to testify. Florida has no shield law, but Kidwell asserted that a qualified reporter’s privilege protects him from disclosing non-confidential information obtained during the 1994 interview.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach will hear the appeal on an expedited basis. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in support of Kidwell, arguing that Florida courts recognize a reporter’s privilege under the First Amendment. (Kidwell v. Florida; Media Counsel: Sandy Bohrer, Miami)