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Supreme Court declines review of reporter's privilege case

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         TENTH CIRCUIT         Confidentiality/Privilege         March 21, 2005    

Supreme Court declines review of reporter’s privilege case

  • A decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals protecting two reporters from testifying in a civil rights case is allowed to stand.

March 21, 2005 — The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to review a case involving the reporter’s privilege, letting stand a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver (10th Cir.) that the subpoenas of two journalists in a civil rights case were properly quashed by the trial court.

The Supreme Court has not reviewed a case involving the reporter’s privilege since its 1972 ruling in Branzburg v. Hayes. Following the Court’s fractured decision in Branzburg, lower federal courts are split on the existence and scope of journalists’ First Amendment privilege to withhold the identity of confidential sources from criminal and civil courts.

The recent Court of Appeals decision stems from the unsolved 1993 murder of Buffy Rice Donohue of Montrose, Colorado. Donohue’s parents sued Montrose officials in 1996, including former police chief Gerald Hoey, for violating their civil rights by failing to conduct an adequate investigation.

The Donohues subpoenaed two reporters who had covered the murder and investigation, Robert Weller of the Associated Press and Stacie Oulton, but the trial court quashed the subpoenas, concluding that the reporters were protected by the reporter’s privilege. The Court of Appeals affirmed Sept. 21, 2004, holding that the Donohues had failed to explain how the trial court erred in quashing the subpoenas.

After the subpoenas were quashed, the reporters were not notified that the issue was being appealed and were not represented before the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals ruled that because it was affirming the order protecting the reporters, their appearance was not necessary.

(Donohue v. Hoey)GP

© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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