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Subpoena for photos dropped, contempt order vacated

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jun 5, 2000    

Subpoena for photos dropped, contempt order vacated

  • A judge who held a photographer in contempt for refusing to disclose unpublished photographs in mid-May vacated the contempt order after an arrested protester dropped his subpoena.

A subpoena for four unpublished photos from The Oakland Tribune, and a contempt order for the paper’s refusing to comply with the subpoena, were vacated on May 17 in Superior Court in Alameda, Calif.

The order was vacated after the subpoena for the photos was dropped by Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi. He was arrested in Berkeley, Calif., during free-speech protests prompted by the Pacifica Foundation’s decision to take radio station KPFA off the air and lock the station’s staff out.

Attorneys for Jacobs-Fantauzzi subpoenaed the Tribune’s unpublished photos hoping to prove that his arrest was unfounded. The Tribune invoked California’ s shield law to argue that unpublished material need not be turned over unless it would materially affect the outcome of a case. The business of the media “is not evidence gathering,” the Tribune argued. Ron Riesterer, the Tribune’s chief photographer, was held in contempt of court when the Tribune refused to comply with the subpoena.

Jacobs-Fantauzzi dropped the subpoena for the unpublished photos a week later. His attorney said that the subpoena was withdrawn when the protester realized that the principles the Tribune was invoking, freedom of speech and of the press as protected under the First Amendment, were the same as the principles that Jacobs-Fantauzzi was standing up for when he was arrested.

A string of news media subpoena controversies, including one that landed an editor in jail for five days, prompted the California Assembly to pass a bill on May 25 to strengthen the state’s shield law. The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, requires that if a journalist is held in contempt of court in a criminal trial for refusing to adhere to a subpoena, the court must provide in writing “at a minimum, why the [subpoenaed] information will be of material assistance to the party seeking the evidence, and why alternate sources of the information” will not suffice in guaranteeing the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

(California v. Fantauzzi; Media Counsel: Duffy Carolan, Oakland; A.B. 1860)

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