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Wakefield defense fund dissolved; remaining money to go to journalism groups

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A special fund that was created to pay the fines of a Minnesota sportswriter who refused to divulge his confidential…

A special fund that was created to pay the fines of a Minnesota sportswriter who refused to divulge his confidential sources is being dissolved. The remaining money will be sent to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists to be used for legal defense of journalists.

Journalists, newspapers and defenders of First Amendment rights contributed $24,246 last year to pay the $200-per-day fines of Wally Wakefield, a reporter for the Maplewood Review. Wakefield, himself, was not on trial, but he had refused to testify in a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul.

After all legal avenues were exhausted, Minnesota journalists created the Wally Wakefield Defense Fund, and contributions came from individuals, newspapers and journalist organizations in Minnesota and across the United States. A total of $16,800 was paid out in fines before the lawsuit was settled.

“Speaking both for Wally and myself, we will be eternally grateful for the financial support that so many people offered,” said Mark Anfinson, Wakefield’s attorney in Minneapolis. “It made all the difference in the world.” Wakefield courageously remained steadfast in refusing to testify, and last July, shortly before the lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial, the case was settled. Anfinson asked the Ramsey County court to refund the $16,800, but the request was denied.

A total of $7,466 remained in the Wakefield Defense Fund and a board of journalists and First Amendment advocates, created to oversee the fund, agreed unanimously to disperse the money to the Society of Professional Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to be used for legal defense efforts on behalf of journalists. Each organization will receive $3,733. SPJ, one of the nation’s foremost defenders of First Amendment rights, played a critical role in publicizing the Wakefield Fund to the journalistic community, and SPJ chapters across the country made contributions. The Reporters Committee has been in the forefront of the nationwide campaign to defend journalists under attack and was crucial in rallying support for Wakefield as well as drafting an amicus in Wakefield’s behalf.

The money sent to SPJ will go to the organization’s Legal Defense Fund, a fund used to defend journalists who are facing jail or have gone to jail to protect their sources, and for other legal defense work on behalf of journalists. The money sent to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will go to reporters who have been subpoenaed and have lacked sufficient funds to pay for their own legal defense.

For additional information, please call Steve Brandt at 612-673-4438 or Randy Furst at 612-673-7382. They are reporters at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis who helped coordinate the Wakefield Defense Fund. (Note: Contributors who have questions or concerns about their contributions should also contact Furst.)