Friday, October 06, 2006

A Federal Case? Federal Property?

Josh Wolf: video blogger at the center of controversy over journalists' rights:
“Wolf’s willingness to go to prison rather than turn over unpublished video of a July, 2005 anti-globalization protest in San Francisco to a federal grand jury has earned him the support of journalists and civil liberties advocates across the United States. Prosecutors say they need the video outtakes to help them determine how a police officer was injured and a police car was damaged. Wolf and his lawyers say the video contains no information about the alleged crimes, and that as a journalist, he should not be compelled to turn them over. Further, they charge, the prosecutors' actions in this case endanger not only the First Amendment rights of journalists, but the civil liberties of ordinary citizens with dissident political views.”

“After a six-month court battle that has gone as for as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Wolf was imprisoned on charges of civil contempt on September 22, 2006 at the Federal Correctional facility in Dublin, California.
Normally, they maintain, such a case would be tried at the state or local level, where California's shield law would apply. That law protects journalists from being required to disclose unpublished
information gathered for a news story. According to news reports, federal prosecutors say the case falls within their jurisdiction because the San Francisco Police Department receives federal funding and thus, the damaged police car is federal property. In an
August, 2006 interview, Wolf asked, "If an S.F. police vehicle is considered federal property, then what isn't federal property?"

"As unconventional and non-traditional as [Josh Wolf's] work in journalism may be in many respects, he is contesting an age-old argument... and that's that journalists never should be arms of law enforcement," says Christine Tatum, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Josh has, at great personal cost, taken quite a stand – an admirable stand, and he has said..., 'I am not divulging unpublished, unedited, unaired material...for a grand jury's review. And we stand wholeheartedly behind him."

So much so that the SPJ donated $30,000 for Wolf's legal fees and convinced his lawyers to cap those fees at $60,000. Tatum said the grant is SPJ's largest-ever award from its legal defense fund.

According to an e-mail from Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, "The incident is under investigation so that the [Grand Jury] can determine what, if any, crimes were committed... As we have argued in our court filings, the GJ is therefore entitled as a matter of law to all of the evidence in Wolf's possession related to the demonstration. Six separate judges or panels have now ruled unequivocally that we have lawfully issued a subpoena for a legitimate investigative purposes, and that the material in question should be furnished to the grand jury."

The case law on journalists' efforts to withhold information from grand juries rarely favors reporters. The most frequently cited precedent is Branzburg v. Hayes, a 1972 Supreme Court case in which it was determined that, with rare exceptions, journalists have no greater protection than other citizens when it comes to complying with a grand jury. The exceptions are when the prosecutor's actions can be reasonably considered harassment, or when disclosure would violate the journalists' Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Coincidentally, at the time Branzburg was handed down, the presiding judge in Wolf case, William Alsup, clerked for Justice William O. Douglas, author of a key Branzburg dissent. Douglas wrote:

"Forcing a reporter before a grand jury will have two retarding effects upon the ear and the pen of the press. Fear of exposure will cause dissidents to communicate less openly to trusted reporters. And fear of accountability will cause editors and critics to write with more restrained pens."

However, in a redacted transcript of Wolf's June 15, 2006 hearing before Alsup, the Judge departed from Douglas' view, declaring, "The U.S. Supreme Court said there is no journalist newsman's privilege under the First Amendment."

For Wolf's supporters, one of the major problems with his case is the fact that it's being prosecuted in Federal court. Normally, they maintain, such a case would be tried at the state or local level, where California's shield law would apply. That law protects journalists from being required to disclose unpublished information gathered for a news story. According to news reports, federal prosecutors say the case falls within their jurisdiction because the San Francisco Police Department receives federal funding and thus, the damaged police car is federal property. In an August, 2006 interview, Wolf asked, "If an S.F. police vehicle is considered federal property, then what isn't federal property?" ”

Is this a Republican Administration or Marxist?

It sure isn't American.

http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/061002pearson/

con·cept: A Federal Case? Federal Property?