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Home > SPJ News > SPJ praises New York Court of Appeals’ decision to quash subpoena against Jana Winter

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SPJ praises New York Court of Appeals’ decision to quash subpoena against Jana Winter


12/10/2013


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
12/10/2013

Contacts:
David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, ekobe@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – National leaders from the Society of Professional Journalists are pleased with the New York Court of Appeals' decision to overturn a subpoena against Jana Winter, an investigative reporter for FoxNews.com who faced jail time for refusing to reveal her confidential sources in a story about the man charged with the 2012 Aurora, Colo., theater shooting.

In a 4-3 decision with a 30-page lead opinion, the New York high court reversed the Appellate Division and ordered the subpoena nullified. This decision came less than a month after oral argument and permanently resolves the case. Jana Winter will no longer have to appear in Colorado court or be under any threat of jail time simply for doing her job.

“This is an important victory for journalists everywhere, and it protects the ability for the public to get the information it needs to self-govern,” said David Cuillier, SPJ president.

Last month, SPJ stood up for Winter’s First Amendment rights in a press release calling on the New York high court to take measures against the subpoena.

“We applaud the court for seeing the importance of journalists to protect sources,” Cuillier said. “Without that some of the most influential stories could not be told.”

Winter’s story surrounding the case focused on a notebook that the alleged murderer James Holmes had mailed to a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado. Winter referred to two anonymous sources in her piece. Twenty different law-enforcement officials denied being the source. Holmes’ lawyers wanted to know who talked to Winter, so they filed the papers to subpoena Winter across state lines.

Based in New York City, Winter is under the umbrella of a state with one of the strongest press shield laws in the country, protecting journalists who promise confidentiality to their sources. In the Empire State, the reporter’s privilege is absolute: a journalist cannot be hauled into court and threatened with jail if she doesn’t reveal who gave her sensitive, confidential or embarrassing information.

But Colorado’s press shield law is much weaker than New York’s. The Colorado statute allows a judge to apply a balancing test to determine if a reporter must testify; the judge weighs whether the information sought is available from other sources and whether the compelled disclosure is justified under the First Amendment.

“This is a prime example of how we need strong shield laws in every state, and at the federal level,” Cuillier said. “Democracy should not rely on where you live.”

At the time SPJ’s earlier press release was published, Winter already had lost twice in the New York Supreme Court. A justice granted the initial application for the subpoena; on appeal, a fractured 3-2 majority in the Appellate Division upheld that decision.

By examining the public policy behind the New York shield law, the judges of the Court of Appeals had a chance to right this wrong and refuse the application. SPJ is happy with their decision to give Winter the protections of the New York press shield law.

SPJ thanks the Court of Appeals for upholding New York’s longstanding and strong public policy supporting journalists’ ability to protect their confidential sources by rejecting the subpoena seeking Winter’s testimony in Colorado.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

SPJ continually raises money for the Legal Defense Fund, an account aimed to provide journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. Visit http://www.spj.org/ldf.asp to request a grant or donate.

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