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Reporters fined $37,000 each after refusing to testify

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Dec 15, 2000    

Reporters fined $37,000 each after refusing to testify

  • The $100-a-minute contempt fine imposed by a judge stopped tolling when the case went to the jury without the reporters’ testimony.

The $100-a-minute contempt fines against two Philadelphia reporters who refused to surrender their interview notes of a murder defendant stopped accumulating on Dec. 15, when the case went to the jury. Attorneys for the reporters said they each owe $37,000.

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. The fines ran during hours the court was in session because the civil contempt fine was designed to coerce the reporters to testify. The court reasoned the reporters could only purge themselves of contempt when court was in session.

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.

Bob Clothier, an attorney for Bowden, said notice of an appeal has been filed with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the first level of appellate review. He said a decision had not been reached whether the fine would be paid pending the appeal.

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

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