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Reporter threatened with jail after refusing to turn over notes

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jun 19, 2000    

Reporter threatened with jail after refusing to turn over notes

  • A San Diego Union-Tribune reporter who refused to turn in notes from a jailhouse interview was held in contempt of court and may be facing jail time of his own.

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter J. Harry Jones was held in contempt of court June 14 by the San Diego Superior Court after he refused to turn over interview notes that had been subpoenaed by a criminal defendant.

Jones took the notes in a jailhouse interview with Jacob Henderson, a man arrested for an assault in July 1999. Henderson had previously confessed to police that he murdered three men in San Diego in the early 1990s. But in his interview with Jones, Henderson said that he falsely admitted to the murders so that he would be eligible for the death penalty and would not have to serve a life sentence in prison. Henderson said he faced a life sentence under California’s three-strikes law because of prior convictions.

After Jones’ story ran in the Union-Tribune, Henderson’s attorney subpoenaed Henderson’s statements from the interview. Jones and the newspaper refused to turn over the notes, arguing that they are protected under California’s Shield Law and they would be inadmissable hearsay, not material to the defense. California’s Shield Law states that a “reporter . . . shall not be adjudged in contempt by a judicial [body] . . . for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving, or processing of information for communication to the public.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge John Thompson said that turning over the statements would not compromise Jones’ news-gathering ability. Thompson gave Jones until June 27 to submit the statements from the interview, though not specifically demanding Jones’ notes as the subpoenaed “statements.” If Jones has not complied by then, Thompson said Jones will be held in jail until the case ends, which might not be until early next summer.

(California v. Henderson; Media Counsel: Guylyn Cummins, San Diego) JM


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