NMU FIFTH CIRCUIT Confidentiality/Privilege Nov 13, 2001

Appeals court rejects bond, rehearing for jailed reporter

Author Vanessa Leggett lost her latest attempt to fight the civil contempt charge against her for refusing to turn over her research to a grand jury.

In the latest setback for a reporter who has just spent her 116th day in jail, a federal appeals court in New Orleans today rejected requests to reconsider her case and to release her on bond pending exhaustion of her appeals.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.) let stand an August decision of a three-judge panel in Houston that found that regardless of whether freelance author Vanessa Leggett is considered a journalist, there is no reporter’s privilege that would allow her to refuse to testify and withhold research before a grand jury.

Federal prosecutors wished to see more than four years’ worth of material Leggett had gathered for a book about a high-profile Houston murder.

While waiting for a decision on whether the full court would reconsider the panel’s decision, Leggett’s lawyer petitioned the court to release her on bond. Although the court had earlier denied such a motion, Mike DeGeurin, Leggett’s attorney, pointed out that, in the meantime, prosecutors had acknowledged that they were on a “fishing expedition” to see if she had any useful evidence. Such a general, burdensome request for information should not outweigh a journalist’s First Amendment rights, he argued.

In its order denying the motion for bond, the court also rejected without comment a friend-of-the-court brief filed by media groups in support of that motion. The brief was written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and joined by The Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Leggett’s only remaining appeal would be to the U.S. Supreme Court. No decision had been made Tuesday on whether she will pursue that appeal, but her attorney had indicated in the past that he planned to appeal to the high court.

(In re Grand Jury Subpoenas; Author’s counsel: Mike DeGeurin, Foreman, DeGeurin, Nugent & Gerger, Houston)GL

Related stories:

Attorney asks federal appeals court to free jailed author on bond (11/6/2001)
Author passes 100-day mark behind bars (10/29/2001)
Justice Department sidesteps request to free jailed author (10/1/2001)
Appellate panel finds no reporter’s privilege exists before grand juries (8/18/2001)
Author lands in jail for refusing to turn over notes (7/25/2001)

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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