Rulings this week by trial judges in the state’s largest court as well as one of its smallest emphasized the right of the press to get information as it arises in legal proceedings on the one hand and to keep what it does not publish from being exploited by prosecutors on the other.
In the first instance, as reported by Paul Pringle and Rong-Gong Lin II for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin ruled that the Times had a First Amendment right to cover depositions of L.A. Memorial Coliseum Commission officials in a case brought by the newspaper and Californians Aware alleging repeated violations of the open government laws. The newspaper and CalAware accuse the Commission of illegally withholding records and conducting a series of closed sessions over the last year and a half in planning a long-term lease of the Coliseum to the University of California. The Commission’s lawyer had sought a court order barring the Times from reporting testimony by Coliseum officials as it emerged in depositions, but Judge Lavin agreed with attorneys for the plaintiffs that the press has every right to cover discovery proceedings in connection with a public court action brought against the government concerning what the judge called “an important landmark with cultural and historic significance.”
The second ruling was by Glenn County Superior Court Judge Donald Cole Byrd, who quashed a subpoena from District Attorney Bob Maloney seeking Sacramento Valley Mirror editor Tim Crews’ appearance and surrender of unpublished notes concerning the arrest of a couple being tried on drug charges. The Mirror interviewed and published comments by the couple at the time of their arrest in 2011, and Maloney apparently believed that publishing some comments waived Crews’ right to withhold any others. Duffy Carolan, media attorney with the San Francisco offices of Davis Wright Tremaine, appearing on Crews’ behalf, was on hand to correct that mistaken view. She also explained that case law had repeatedly established that California prosecutors, like local grand juries and private parties in state civil court proceedings, are absolutely barred by California’s constitutional shield law for journalism from demanding access to unpublished information acquired in preparing the news, including not only confidential sources but also reporters’ notes. Maloney, who was not present for the hearing on the motion to quash, who had not returned Carolan’s phone calls attempting to settle the matter and obviate her trip to the Sacramento Valley, and who apparently had not even read her moving papers, seems also never to have realized that Crews had proven before that he was willing to go to jail for contempt rather than yield his right to avoid being an investigative source for those waging court battles.