Subpoenas for riot photos, tapes once again thrown out
MICHIGAN–A state trial judge in East Lansing declined in late May to throw out the second round of subpoenas issued against journalists for unpublished photographs of March riots at Michigan State University. The first group of subpoenas were dismissed by the state Supreme Court in late April.
Trial judge David Jordon once again ordered 11 news organizations to provide law enforcement officials with unpublished photographs and videotape taken of rioting that erupted on the Michigan State campus after the school’s loss to Duke University in the NCAA basketball tournament.
In early April, Jordon ordered the same news organizations to respond to similar subpoenas issued by Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings and held that the Michigan shield law, which provides an absolute privilege against the disclosure of the identities of confidential sources, was not applicable because no confidential informants are involved when photographs are taken at a public gathering.
In late April, however, the state Supreme Court in Lansing ruled that the original subpoenas were improperly issued as discovery subpoenas, which normally are enforceable only against parties to the action at hand.
Dunnings reissued the subpoenas in early May as investigative subpoenas. Jordon’s most recent order for the news media to turn over unpublished photographs and videotape of the riots allows for a three- week stay of enforcement of the subpoenas, until a state appellate court can hear arguments on the matter in June.
The news organizations affected — the Detroit Free Press, the Lansing State Journal, Michigan State’s The State News, and television news outlets in Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids – – argue that the investigative subpoenas are improper because a 1995 state law allows this type of subpoena to be issued against the news media only when the news media are the subject of the investigation. (In re Subpoenas to News Media Petitioners; State Journal’s Counsel: Charles Barbieri, Lansing; Free Press Counsel: Herschel Fink, Detroit)