Blogger Josh Wolf now holds the troubling record as the longest-jailed journalist for contempt of court in recent American history.
Wolf, who is refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena for his testimony and video outtakes, has spent 169 days in a federal prison in California as of today. He has now spent more time behind bars than author/journalist Vanessa Leggett, who spent 168 days in a Texas federal prison for refusing to comply with a subpoena in 2001.
“It’s extremely troubling that we have seen both records set by freelancers who were working hard to inform the public,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “Both of these journalists feel very strongly that the public is better served when journalists are not required to become investigators for the government.”
The 24-year-old video blogger and independent media advocate was first jailed for contempt of court Aug. 1 when he refused to comply with a federal subpoena. Federal officials want Wolf to testify and to turn over a videotape they claim might contain footage of crimes committed at a July 2005 anarchist rally.
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 Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Wolf.
The panel affirmed the contempt order Sept. 8, and Wolf returned to prison later that month. The full appeals court declined to hear the case, and a new motion for Wolf’s release was denied by the trial court in January.
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 be charged with criminal contempt of court as well, which carries separate penalties.