Reporters jailed for refusing to testify

Published April 05, 2013


The following information is taken from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' “Paying the Price: A recent census of reporters jailed or fined for refusing to testify” and from the First Amendment Center's “Jailed & subpoenaed journalists — a historical timeline.”

•           1917, Robert E. Holliway of the St. Louis Republic was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to reveal the sources for his story, &quot7 True Bills are Voted in Coal Inquiry,&quot in which he reported that a grand jury returned seven previously unannounced indictments in an investigation of the coal industry.

•           1936, Martin Mooney, a reporter for the New York American, was called as a witness before a grand jury probing alleged violations of gambling and lottery laws after he wrote an article saying the grand jury’s investigations into these charges were ineffective. After refusing to answer questions and furnish the names and addresses of his sources on the grounds that they were confidential and privileged, Mooney was cited for contempt and jailed. The New York Court of Appeals upheld Mooney‟s contempt citation and further ruled that the decision to enact a shield law for reporters must be left up to the Legislature, not the courts.

•           1950, Reubin Clein, an editor for Miami Life magazine, refused to disclose the source of a leak about a grand jury probe of a city councilman accused of bribery. A trial court held the editor in contempt and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. Citing grand jury secrecy laws and the broad investigatory powers vested in grand juries under the state constitution, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence, finding Clein had no privilege against revealing his source.

•           1958, Marie Torre, CBS. In Garland v. Torre, actress Judy Garland became the first litigant to face a formal First Amendment challenge to her demand for a journalist’s  sources. Garland sued CBS for defamation, alleging that she was defamed by quotes from an unnamed network executive arising out of a New York Herald Tribune column written by Marie Torre. Torre testified at her deposition, but refused to disclose the identity of her source. The trial judge held the journalist in criminal contempt, sentenced her to 10 days in jail, but allowed her to remain free pending appeal. On appeal, Torre defended herself on First Amendment grounds. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant Torre a hearing and she served her 10-day jail sentence after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that even if the First Amendment were to provide some protection, the reporter must testify when the information sought goes to the heart of the plaintiff’s claim.

•           1970, Mark Knops, editor of the underground Madison (Wis.) Kaleidoscope, was sentenced to six months in jail for refusing to answer questions from a grand jury investigating a fire at Whitewater State University and a bombing at the University of Wisconsin that killed a young researcher.

•           1972, Newark (N.J.) Evening News reporter Peter Bridge was charged with contempt and jailed for 21 days after refusing to answer questions from an Essex County grand jury related to a story he wrote about a bribery case involving the Newark Housing Authority. Though Bridge answered more than 50 questions posed by the grand jury, he refused to answer questions that he said went beyond the scope of his story, including inquiries about his sources.

•           1972, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner journalist William Farr was jailed for 46 days for refusing to reveal sources for a story he wrote about the Charles Manson murder trial. Despite a gag order imposed by the judge on attorneys, witnesses and court personnel, Farr obtained and published a prospective witness‟s account of plans by the Manson family to murder celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor. When Farr refused to tell Los Angeles Superior Court Judge

•           1972, Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief John F. Lawrence and reporters Ronald J. Ostrow and Jack Nelson were ordered to turn over tapes and other materials from more than five hours of interviews with Alfred C. Baldwin III, a key witness in the Watergate break-in case. Lawrence was jailed briefly for refusing to turn over the tapes but was released after Baldwin agreed to relieve the newspaper of its obligation to secrecy and personally approved the surrender of the recordings.

•           1978 New York Times reporter Myron Farber wrote a series of articles in 1975 that led to the criminal indictment of New Jersey surgeon Dr. Mario Jascalevich — referred to as “Dr. X” in Farber’s early articles — on charges that he murdered five of his patients with lethal doses of curare, a powerful muscle-relaxing drug. Attorneys for Jascalevich subpoenaed all of Farber’s notes and files on the case to see if they could be relevant to Jascalevich‟s defense. Farber refused to turn over his notes and was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000. The New York Times was also ordered to pay $100,000 in civil contempt fines plus $5,000 per day while Farber was in jail. Farber served 40 days of his six-month sentence before New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne pardoned him and ordered the return of $286,000 in criminal fines against the Times.

•           1979, News director at radio station KLUE in Longview, Texas, Wayne Harrison became the first broadcast journalist in Texas to be jailed for refusing to reveal a news source. Harrison remained in jail for three hours but was released after Moore decided the court no longer needed to know the sources’ names.

•           1981, Ellen Marks, a reporter for The Idaho Statesman, was cited for contempt of court for refusing to reveal to a judge the location where she interviewed a woman who disappeared with her 8-yearold daughter and defied court orders to return the girl to her father. A judge ordered Marks jailed, but then released her the same day and began a series of $500 fines.

•           1982, Barry Smith, a reporter for the Durango (Colo.) Herald, and Dave Tragethon, a reporter for KIUP-KRSJ radio, agreed in a plea bargain to serve two days in jail and pay a fine of $500 each for refusing to reveal their sources in reporting on a murder case. The stories published by the Herald and aired on KIUP-KRSJ included information that LaPlata County District Judge Al Haas had intended to protect from public release through a gag order

•           1984, Richard Hargraves, Belleville, Ill. Newspaper reporter jailed over a weekend in connection with libel case. Released when source came forward.

•           1985, Chris Van Ness, California. Free-lancer subpoenaed in connection with John Belushi murder. Jailed for several hours; revealed source; released.

•           1986, Brad Stone, Detroit. TV reporter refused to reveal identities of gang members interviewed several weeks prior to cop killing. Jailed for one day; released pending appeal. Grand jury then dismissed.

•           1987, Roxana Kopetman, Los Angeles. Newspaper reporter jailed for six hours for resisting prosecution subpoena seeking eye witness testimony. Appealed; court ruled against her, but criminal case was long over.

•           1990, Brian Karem, San Antonio. TV reporter subpoenaed by defense and prosecution; refused to reveal name of individuals who arranged jailhouse interview. Jailed for 13 days. Released when sources came forward.

•           1990, Libby Averyt, Corpus Christi, Texas. Newspaper reporter subpoenaed for info about jailhouse interview. Jailed over a weekend; released when judge convinced she would never turn over the unpublished information sought.

•           1990, Tim Roche, Stuart, Fla. Newspaper reporter subpoenaed to reveal source for leaked court order supposed to have been sealed. Jailed briefly, released pending appeal. Later sentenced to 30 days for criminal contempt. Served 18 days in 1993, and was released.

•           1991, Sid Gaulden, Schuyler Kropf, Cindi Scoppe, Andrew Shain; Columbia, South Carolina. Jailed for eight hours; released for appeal, which they lost, but trial was over. Prosecutors sought unpublished conversations with state senator on trial for corruption.

•           1991, Felix Sanchez and James Campbell, Houston. Newspaper reporters locked in judges chambers for several hours; had refused to stand in the back of courtroom and identify possible eyewitnesses to crime. Appeal successful through habeas corpus petition.

•           1994, Lisa Abraham, Warren, Ohio. Newspaper reporter jailed from Jan. 19 to February 10, for refusing to testify before a state grand jury about jailhouse interview.

•           1996, Bruce Anderson, Ukiah, Calif. Editor of Anderson Valley Independent found in civil contempt, jailed for total of 13 days for refusing to turn over original letter to the editor received from prisoner. After a week, he tried to turn over the letter, but judge refused to believe it was the original because it was typed. After another week, judge finally accepted that the typewritten letter was the original.

•           1996, David Kidwell, Palm Beach County, Fla. Miami Herald reporter found in criminal contempt, sentenced to 70 days for refusing to testify for prosecution about jailhouse interview. Served 14 days before being released on own recognizance after filing federal habeas corpus petition.

•           1998, Schoolteacher and retired journalist John Rezendes-Herrick was sentenced to five days in jail for refusing to reveal a confidential source in stories that he wrote in 1995 as a reporter for the Inland Valley (Calif.) Daily Bulletin.

•           2000, Timothy Crews, Red Bluff, Calif. Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher served a five-day sentence for refusing to reveal his confidential sources in a story involving the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer.

•           2001, Vanessa Leggett, Houston, Texas. Author researching &quottrue crime&quot book jailed for 168 days by federal judge for refusing to disclose her research and the identities of her sources to a federal grand jury investigating a murder. Leggett was freed only after the term of the grand jury expired. A subsequent grand jury indicted the key suspect in the murder without any need for her testimony. Leggett may again face a subpoena during his murder trial.

•           2004, Jim Taricani, Providence, R.I. A WJAR television reporter obtained and aired in February 2001 a portion of the videotape showing a Providence city official accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent &quotBuddy&quot Cianci Jr. Taricani was subpoenaed, but refused to reveal his source and was found in civil contempt of court. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), NBC, WJAR's network, paid $85,000 in fines. In November, Taricani was found in criminal contempt of court and a month later, was sentence to six months home confinement. He was granted early release after being confined for four months.

•           2005, Judith Miller, Washington, D.C. New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to testify against news sources in the investigation into leaks of a CIA operative's name by White House officials. She spent 85 days in jail, and was released when she agreed to provide limited testimony to the grand jury regarding conversations with vice presidential aide Lewis &quotScooter&quot Libby without revealing her other sources.

•           2006, Josh Wolf, San Francisco, Calif. Freelance video blogger initially jailed for a month when he refused to turn over a video tape that federal officials said contained footage of protesters damaging a police car. Wolf was released on bail on Sept. 1, but an appeals court panel confirmed the contempt order against him and Wolf returned to jail. He was finally released on April 3, 2007.