Seattle’s city attorney subpoenaed the reporters to ascertain the identity of confidential sources who provided information for a series of articles covering an investigation into police misconduct.
The city is currently defending a suit from John Powers, a target of the investigation, who was found guilty of unbecoming conduct, misuse of authority and other departmental violations and was subsequently fired. Powers’ suit contends that he was wrongfully terminated and defamed by named and unnamed city officials and seeks $1 million in lost wages and $5 million for loss of reputation.
Even though the case is in federal court, where there is no statutory shield law to protect subpoenaed journalists, the state shield law may still apply. Washington’s shield law, which was just passed in April, is among the strongest in the nation, going so far as to absolutely protect confidential sources. If the state shield applies, it should provide more than adequate fuel for the judge to quash the subpoenas.