The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several other media organizations this week filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Minnesota sports reporter who was held in contempt for refusing to reveal anonymous sources who made critical comments about a high school football coach.
Wally Wakefield, a reporter for the weekly Maplewood Review in suburban St. Paul, was ordered last month by a Ramsey County District Court Judge to pay a $200 per day fine when he refused to identify confidential sources for a story written five years ago. Wakefield wrote an article after Tartan High School fired its football coach, Richard Weinberger, as a result of accusations of misconduct and maltreatment of the team’s players, according to court records.
Wakefield’s article contained several statements from unnamed school officials who said Weinberger intimidated Tartan football players. Weinberger sued the school district and four school officials for defamation, but he did not sue Wakefield or the newspaper. Instead, Weinberger subpoenaed Wakefield to learn the identities of the confidential sources.
Minnesota has a “shield law” that generally protects reporters from revealing confidential sources. However, the law includes an exception for defamation cases in which a court can order disclosure. The amicus brief argues that the defamation exception should only apply when the reporter is a party to the lawsuit.
“Any time a reporter is forced to identify a confidential source, the ability of the public to receive valuable information about important issues is threatened,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “If the district court’s ruling is not reversed, journalists who are not parties in defamation cases can expect to be hauled into court with very little weight given to the interests of the press and the public in maintaining a free flow of information.”
The brief, filed with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, was joined by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union.
A copy of the amicus curiae brief can be found at: