NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NINTH CIRCUIT · Confidentiality/Privilege · Feb. 6, 2007
Video blogger is now longest-jailed American journalist
Feb. 6, 2007 · As of today, video blogger Josh Wolf has spent more time in prison for contempt of court than any other journalist in recent history. Feb. 6 marks his 169th day behind bars.
The 24-year-old video blogger and self-proclaimed anarchist was first jailed for contempt of court Aug. 1 when he refused to comply with a grand jury subpoena for his testimony and video outtakes of a July 2005 anarchist rally. Federal officials say Wolf’s outtakes might contain footage of crimes committed at the rally.
Wolf has now been jailed longer than author/journalist Vanessa Leggett, who spent 168 days in a Texas federal prison for refusing to comply with a subpoena in 2001.
Wolf’s lawyers appealed the order of contempt last summer and he was granted bail Aug. 31 pending a decision by a panel of appeals court judges. The panel affirmed the contempt order Sept. 8, and Wolf returned to prison later that month. A motion for a hearing in front of the full appeals court was denied.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Wolf.
Attorneys for Wolf filed a new motion for his release in late January and argued that he should no longer be held in prison since “further incarceration will not compel him to comply with the subpoena.”
They said that given the extraordinary amount of time Wolf has already spent behind bars, it is clear that more time in prison will not influence him to testify. However, the court disagreed and refused to grant the motion Jan. 30.
Although a grand jury is still empanelled in the underlying case, Wolf’s attorney Martin Garbus said that as far as he knows, “at the federal level, that grand jury hasn’t been taking evidence for six or seven months.”
“What’s remarkable is that he’s being kept in jail while there’s no ongoing investigation on either the state or federal level that we know about,” Garbus said.
In a Jan. 29 court filing, prosecutors responded that “perhaps this has become a situation where [Wolf’s] refusal to comply with the subpoena is causing a stall in the investigation that [Wolf] is now trying to use to his advantage as a reason for release.”
Wolf could remain in prison until the grand jury’s term expires this summer or even until early 2008 if the term is extended. Under federal law, the maximum term of confinement for a person cited for civil contempt is 18 months.
However, Wolf could technically be charged with criminal contempt of court as well, which carries separate penalties. Civil contempt is meant to coerce a witness into complying with a court’s order, but criminal contempt is a punishment for noncompliance.
Despite his now-lengthy prison stay, “Josh hasn’t given any indication that he will testify,” said Dan Siegel, another of Wolf’s attorneys. “In fact, his convictions have gotten stronger as he has realized that he can survive this much time in jail.”
Siegel said that it is “ridiculous that Josh has had to give up over six months of his life” because of “the vindictiveness” of federal prosecutors.
Liz Wolf Spada, Wolf’s mother, said that she is “unbelievably angry and grieved” by what she calls an “abuse of power by our federal government.”
Spada also said that Wolf “has never indicated any willingness to testify to this grand jury” and that he “is strong in his belief that our U.S. Constitution does indeed grant us the rights to a free press.”
Garbus said that the motion for Wolf’s release would likely be renewed sometime in March or April, but that “it’s very hard to be optimistic at this point.”
(In re Grand Jury Subpoena; Media Counsel: Martin Garbus, Davis & Gilbert, New York) — ES