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Two reporters fight ACLU subpoenas in city plaza speech case

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Two reporters fight ACLU subpoenas in city plaza speech case

  • Reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune and The Deseret Morning News seek to protect their First Amendment rights from civil liberties group.

Jan. 6, 2004 — The Salt Lake Tribune and The Deseret Morning News are fighting efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah to depose a pair of reporters, ironically enough, in a free speech case.

The ACLU filed a complaint against the Salt Lake City Corporation (a municipal corporation) and Salt Lake City Mayor Ross “Rocky” Anderson in federal court seeking an injunction against speech restrictions on the city’s Main Street Plaza. The ACLU has since subpoenaed the reporters to answer questions about interviews they conducted with Anderson.

In 1999, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought the plaza, although the city reserved an easement that maintained a public right of way through the property. The ACLU filed its complaint on Aug. 7, after the city made a deal with the church that eliminated the easement — as well as the public’s right to freedom of speech on the plaza.

Anderson initially opposed eliminating the easement, and the ACLU alleges that he was bullied into the deal by the church.

On Dec. 19, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that its lawyers were asking the judge to quash the ACLU’s subpoena, on the grounds that reporter Heather May has a qualified privilege to refuse to give testimony or produce documents.

The Deseret Morning News, which is owned by the LDS church, is also seeking to quash the subpoena served to reporter Brady Snyder. In its motion, attorney Randy Dryer wrote that Snyder “[b]elieves . . . being forced to testify about information obtained from news sources damages his credibility as a reporter, threatens his independence and his relationship with such news sources, and unnecessarily makes him a witness in a case he is covering for the newspaper.”

A spokeswoman for the ACLU says the reporters are only being sought to confirm the mayor’s statements quoted in their article so that the articles may be introduced into evidence at the trial.

(Utah Gospel Mission v. Salt Lake City Corp.; Media Counsel for The Salt Lake Tribune: Michael Patrick O’Brien, Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough; Media Counsel for The Deseret Morning News: Randy L. Dryer, Parsons, Behle & Latimer, Salt Lake City) KM

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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