The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (Fifth Circuit) in support of Vanessa Leggett, a Houston writer who was jailed after refusing to turn over research materials she gathered. Joining in the brief were the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Radio and Television News Directors Association.
“We are particularly disturbed because the federal court and the Justice Department have kept every aspect of this case secret,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “Had this journalist not sought help from journalism organizations prior to being sentenced for contempt, she would have been secretly jailed as well.”
Leggett, now in her second week in prison, went to jail after refusing to turn over notes from interviews she had with players in a Houston murder. She was held in contempt and sent to jail without bond on July 20. Her attorney, Mike DeGuerin, said she could be held as long as the grand jury convenes, 18 months.
“The public has a vital interest in a Free and independent press,” Leggett said in a prepared statement of July 30. “Our forefathers recognized this in the First Amendment. In other countries the government has taken control of the press. I am not a martyr and I want to see justice done. But I am doing what I must to protect the public’s interest in a free press.”
Leggett lost an attempt during a secret hearing in federal district court in Houston on July 6 to get a grand jury subpoena against her quashed. Leggett had argued to the court that she was protected by a reporters privilege under the state and federal constitutions. The court’s order denying the motion to quash is sealed.
The Reporters Committee brief, filed on July 30, was written by Jackson & Walker attorneys Charles L. Babcock, Robert P. Latham and John K. Edwards.
Leggett, who lectures at a local college, is a writer. She was working on a book on the death of a Houston woman, Doris Angleton, who was found shot to death in April 1997. Angleton’s millionaire bookie husband Robert Angleton and his brother, Roger, were charged in the case. Roger committed suicide in the Harris County, Texas jail in February 1998. A state court jury acquitted Robert, and a federal investigation of Roger soon followed. Leggett had interviews from dozens of people surrounding the case, and it has been reported that she interviewed Roger before his death.
The Reporters Committee’s brief is available at: