December 10, 2013

New York State Court of Appeals

There exists “no principle more fundamental or well-established than the right of a reporter to refuse to divulge a confidential source,” New York’s State Court of Appeals said in an decision Tuesday. The 4-3 decision means Fox News reporter Jana Winter will not have to travel to Colorado to testify in James Holmes’ murder trial.

“We therefore conclude that an order from a New York court directing a reporter to appear in another state where, as here, there is a substantial likelihood that she will be compelled to identify sources who have been promised confidentiality would offend our strong public policy — a common law, statutory and constitutional tradition that has played a significant role in this State becoming the media capital of the country if not the world,” Judge Victoria A. Graffeo wrote in the majority opinion.

Winter obtained a notebook that belonged to Holmes, who is accused of carrying out a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Holmes’ attorneys hoped to force her to testify to the source of her leak. A New York judge upheld a subpoena for Winter in August.

In a dissent, Judge Robert S. Smith wrote that “I do not think this is a proper case, however, because the allegedly privileged communications took place wholly in Colorado, and the New York Shield Law does not apply to them.” But in her opinion, Graffeo wrote that “New York journalists should not have to consult the law in the jurisdiction where a source is located or where a story ‘breaks’ (assuming either is ascertainable) in order to determine whether they can issue a binding promise of confidentiality.”

“Today, Jana Winter is finally free from the threat of jail that has been hanging over her head for more than a year,” Winter’s attorney Dori Ann Hanswirth told Fox News. “New York’s highest court has ruled that she does not have to appear in Colorado to disclose her confidential sources. New York is the news capital of the country and the world.”

“Today’s ruling is a major win for all journalists,” Fox News CEO Roger Ailes said in a statement emailed to Poynter. “The protection of Jana Winter’s confidential sources was necessary for the survival of journalism and democracy as a whole. We are very grateful that the highest court in New York State agreed with our position.”

Previously: N.Y. court to consider whether Fox News reporter should testify in Colorado

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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