By: Joel Davis
Newspaperman Refused To Reveal Sources
Tim Crews, 57, who edits, publishes, and delivers the rural Sacramento
Valley Mirror , reported to the Tehema County Jail in Red Bluff,
Calif., on Saturday for a five-day sentence for refusing to reveal the
names of sources for a story. ‘This is the first time in a generation
that a California court has sentenced a journalist to jail for
protecting a source,’ says Terry Francke of the California First
Crews is a veteran journalist who started the feisty, 2,600-circulation
Valley Mirror in 1991 in the tiny California burg of Arltois. He has
many admirers and detractors in the community, and has been threatened
and had his car vandalized over the years.
The California Supreme Court, by a 6-1 vote, denied Crews’ petition to
stay a contempt-of-court charge in Tehama County. Crews also petitioned
the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, which, like the state court,
declined to hear the case. His next move most likely will be to
petition the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the last court of
appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
‘Unless the federal court intervenes, I will proudly do the five days,’
Crews says in a statement last week before he went to jail. ‘No
newspaper in California should use confidential sources or even accept
any confidential tips. That’s the message from the contempt judgment
being enforced against me.’
Prior to his appeals, Crews was sentenced to five days in jail Jan. 14
by Tehama County Superior Court Judge Noel Watkins for declining to
reveal the names of two sources used for a story about a firearm-theft
charge against a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer.
The California high court’s refusal to hear the case is a major blow to
California’s shield law, which is one of the strongest in the country.
The law, while strong when protecting sources from the prosecution, is
less powerful when the defense – in this case, the CHP officer – is
seeking information because of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment
guaranteeing the right to a fair trial, which apparently trumped the
shield law in this case.
‘The California shield law has been no help in this situation,’ says
Francke, a longtime supporter of Crews. With the shield law out of the
picture, Crews’ only recourse at the federal level is the implied
protection of the First Amendment, Francke says. ‘The First Amendment
requires that journalists not be too easily forced to give up
information, especially confidential sources.’
Crews has received widespread media attention and support in the case,
including $40,000 in pro bono legal representation from California
media law attorneys. He is also getting help from the San Francisco
Bay Guardian , whose publisher/editor, Bruce Brugmann, a champion of
media access, has volunteered staffers to help publish Crews’ paper if
he is jailed.
Joel Davis (email@example.com) is West Coast editor
for Editor & Publisher magazine.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher