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Reporters Committee asks judge to reconsider contempt charges

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urged Utah Judge James L. Shumate to reconsider an order that would…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urged Utah Judge James L. Shumate to reconsider an order that would require a television reporter to produce a public service report for her violation of a court directive.

Calling the order a “grave violation of the First Amendment” and its protection against compelled speech, the Reporters Committee argued that to require a reporter to produce a piece of work designated by a court would violate U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence expressly intended to protect against compelled speech in the media.

“To require the production . . . goes squarely against the First Amendment freedom from compelled expression our nation’s jurisprudence has long supported,” wrote Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish to the judge.

KUTV reporter Katie Baker, of Salt Lake City, broadcast a story Sept. 10 in which she interviewed a potential juror in the high-profile trial of accused rapist and polygamist Warren Jeffs. Previously, Shumate had issued a “Decorum Order” in which he forbade publication of juror information. He subsequently ordered Baker to produce a public service report or face charges of contempt of court.

In a sworn statement, Baker stated that she was unaware of the court’s directive and thus, did not “knowingly or willfully” violate Shumate’s order — two requirements for a contempt charge under Utah law.

The Reporters Committee firmly believes Shumate should not hold Baker in contempt; both because she did not have the requisite elements under Utah law, but just as importantly because to do so would be to compel speech in violation of the First Amendment.

A copy of the letter can be found at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20071024-lettertost.html