Local Prosecutors Circumvent State Journalist Protections With Federal Grand Jury
A federal grand jury continues to target a San Francisco independent journalist in an attempt to force him to turn over materials that would normally be protected by the California's Reporter Shield Law. A second subpoena was issued to Josh Wolf by an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations this Monday after a Federal court denied his request to quash a previous, similar subpoena. He has been ordered to testify before the Federal grand jury this Thursday at 1:15 p.m. and to produce unpublished portions of a videotape documenting a protest that occurred in San Francisco's Mission District last year.
The National Lawyers Guild will host a press conference at noon on Thursday, June 15 th in front of the Federal Building – where the grand jury will convene – 450 Golden Gate in San Francisco.
California's shield law, according to a recent court decision on the matter, "is intended to protect the ga thering and dissemination of news." In that decision, the California Court of Appeals in San Jose confirmed that the law protected internet bloggers just as it protected corporate news reporters. Despite the fact that local state prosecutors and police are already investigating criminal activity related to the Mission protest, and that there is cooperation between state and federal entities, the federal government has successfully argued that the state law should not apply. Federal protections are not as strong.
Attorney Jose Luis Fuentes, of the Oakland based Siegel & Yee firm, is representing Wolf. "My client has filmed a lot of political activity and free speech activity in the Bay Area as a journalist and this subpoena with its associated threat of jail time for noncompliance has an incredible chilling effect on his and o ther journalist's freedom to ga ther and disseminate information to the public," said Fuentes. Wolf, his attorneys and the Bay Area National Lawyers Guild (NLG) are alarmed and warn that this situation could lead to increased suspicion of the media by political activists or a resistance to public demonstrations for fear of unfair federal witch hunts.
Wolf also feels, "The ramifications of this case could have a deleterious effect on all journalists, both independent and those associated with the established media, as the government's actions seek to eviscerate the state protections afforded to news ga therers under the various state shield laws."
The NLG is also greatly concerned with the level of cooperation seen between San Francisco police and prosecutors and the federal government. "Particularly under the Bush Administration, with Ashcroft and now Alberto Gonzalez, we are seeing much more cooperation between the federal government and local governments," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area. "This grand jury investigation shows that greater civil liberty protections by states can easily become irrelevant when the federal government gets involved and local officials show no respect for those civil liberties."