On Wednesday, New York’s highest court denied New York Times journalist Frances Robles’ appeal to quash a subpoena for her testimony and notes in the “Baby Hope” murder trial.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled that Robles does not have the right to directly appeal the trial court’s decision to deny her motion to quash the subpoena. If Robles does not comply with the subpoena, she could be held in contempt of court.
New York’s shield law protects a reporter from being compelled to reveal her sources and work product. But today’s decision means that if the trial court denies a reporter’s motion to quash a subpoena issued during a criminal proceeding, the reporter does not have a right to directly appeal that decision and must either comply with the subpoena or risk contempt.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, made the following statement:
“The protections of a shield law are meaningless unless a reporter can appeal an erroneous trial court ruling. Today’s decision leaves important substantive protections for journalists under New York law without the means to enforce them. A reporter should not have to risk going to jail for contempt in order to trigger appellate review of her rights.
“It’s a journalist’s job to report the news and inform the public. If reporters can’t protect their sources, the public will miss out on important stories and valuable information.”
In October, the Reporters Committee and a coalition of 48 other news media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Robles’ appeal, arguing that New York’s shield law protects her from being forced to testify about information gathered in the course of her reporting.
“The New York legislature must step in and pass legislation to permit appeals like this one to move forward,” added Brown. “To do nothing would significantly undermine New York’s constitution and shield law and their protections for the free press.”
The state’s shield law “encourages sources to speak with reporters, protects the press’s editorial independence and willingness to report on controversial subjects, and frees the news media to spend its time and resources reporting the news,” the brief notes. “Without the privilege, the news media – and thereby, the public – would lose its source of information on matters of public concern such as crime, corporate malfeasance, and government corruption.”