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Appeals court affirms first amendment rights of reporter


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SPJ News
9/27/1996


The First Amendment and the public's right to know prevailed Wednesday when contempt charges against TV reporter Richard Angelico were thrown out by a Louisiana appeals court.

"The wise men on the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal have prevailed," said Steve Geimann, newly-elected president of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Instead of siding with the district attorney who tried to hide evidence, and then tried to punish the reporter for doing his job, the appeals court supported the public's right to know what was in the records."

The Society supported Angelico, of WDSU-TV in New Orleans, in February when he was charged with breaking Louisiana's grand jury secrecy law by revealing the names of grand jury witnesses who testified more than 20 years ago during an investigation into President Kennedy's assassination. He was fined $100 and received a three-month suspended sentence. The appeals court ruled the secrecy law did not apply to Angelico.

Angelico received the grand jury documents from Gary Raymond, a former DA office staffer. Raymond said District Attorney Harry Connick had ordered the documents destroyed in 1974 to create office space, but Raymond felt they had historical value and took them home. He contacted Angelico after Connick told the federal review board that the records had disappeared during the past administration. Angelico aired a story on the documents and then turned them over to the review board.

"We state again, as we did in February when these bogus charges were filed, that Richard Angelico did his job as a reporter when he received records he and others deemed to be in the public interest," said Geimann. "He did a story, then he turned the documents over to the official Assassination Records Review Board. It took a long time, but the First Amendment and the public's right to know have won again. Next time, we shouldn't have to wage a court battle on such an issue."

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