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Vanessa Leggett wins First Amendment award

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         NEW YORK         Confidentiality/Privilege         Apr 11, 2002    

Vanessa Leggett wins First Amendment award

  • The PEN American Center awarded a $25,000 prize to a book author who was jailed for 168 days for refusing to reveal confidential research to federal authorities.

Texas writer Vanessa Leggett has won the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award in recognition of the 168 days she spent in the Federal Detention Center in Houston for refusing to reveal her confidential sources to a federal grand jury.

“I’m just so glad there are people out there who realize how important the First Amendment is and have instituted this award to encourage others to furiously guard it and to realize that it’s something worth fighting for,” Leggett said.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press nominated Leggett for the award. Leggett will receive the $25,000 prize on April 24 at the PEN American Center’s annual gala in New York City.

Judges praised the aspiring book author as “a powerful example of personal conviction and courage in the face of the most extreme pressure and a hero in the effort to preserve investigative freedom for writers and journalists in the U.S.,” according to a press release from the PEN American Center in New York City.

Leggett was jailed on July 20, 2001, on a civil contempt charge after she refused to give a federal grand jury four years of her research into the 1997 shooting death of Houston socialite Doris Angleton. The subpoena sought all of her tape-recorded interviews with her sources, including all copies of transcripts.

Leggett argued that she was protected by a reporter’s constitutional privilege against divulging confidential sources. Two federal courts disagreed. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon ruled on July 6, 2001, that no such privilege protects journalists in Texas. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Houston (5th Cir.) ruled that no reporter’s privilege exists against a grand jury subpoena.

Leggett has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to take the case.

She avoided another grand jury subpoena when, shortly after she was released from jail, a new grand jury indicted Robert Angleton for murder-for-hire in the death of his wife. However, Leggett could be subpoenaed to testify at Angleton’s trial, and will face another contempt citation and more jail time if she does not comply.


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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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