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Reporters fined $100 per minute until they turn over notes

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Dec 14, 2000    

Reporters fined $100 per minute until they turn over notes

  • A judge and prosecutors want to hear about any statements from a murder defendant that may reveal his disdain for alleged neighborhood drug dealers.

A trial judge has fined two Philadelphia reporters $100 a minute until they surrender their notes from interviews with a murder defendant. The contempt order commenced at noon Dec. 13.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan (1st Dist.) ordered the fine against reporters from the Philadelphia Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer rather than jail them as the prosecutor requested.

Bryan Tyson is on trial for murdering his neighbor, Damon Millner. An Inquirer reporter, Mark Bowden, reported in a three-part series in June 1998 that Tyson had frequently confronted cocaine dealers in his neighborhood. Linn Washington, a contributing Temple University law professor, wrote articles for the Tribune on the shooting.

Tyson claims he shot Millner in self-defense, but prosecutors call Tyson a vigilante who tried to rid his neighborhood of drug dealers. Prosecutors sought the notes as material for cross-examination of Tyson. The trial is expected to conclude on Dec. 14.

Greenspan ordered the reporters to surrender the notes in a Dec. 4 order that reasoned that the Pennsylvania shield law is not an absolute privilege. Although she ruled the prosecutor was “not entitled to a fishing expedition,” the prosecutor may request the unpublished notes because they were unavailable from another source, they covered statements relevant to the defendant’s guilt or innocence and were necessary to the prosecution’s case.

The court limited the scope of the order to “verbatim or substantially verbatim statements of the defendant involving the incident itself or such statements of the defendant which speak to his relationship to drug dealers in his neighborhood.”

Katherine Hatton, general counsel for parent company Philadelphia Newspapers, said the newspapers would not pay the fine while it appeals the court’s contempt order.

(Commonwealth v. Tyson; Media Counsel: Katherine Hatton, Philadelphia Newspapers; Amy Ginensky, Dechert Price & Rhoads, Philadelphia) DB

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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