By: Joe Strupp
Mike Hudson may not be Judith Miller. His newspaper, the weekly Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Reporter, is hardly The New York Times. And if he ends up in jail, don’t expect the likes of Tom Brokaw and Maureen Dowd to visit him, even though he was once something of a celebrity as leader of the Cleveland rock band, The Pagans.
Still, the subpoena he is fighting in U.S. District Court that demands he turn over notes, files, and other reporting resources is just as serious as the one Miller opposed. And possibly more unusual.
“It is absolutely beyond me why anyone would want to subpoena a newspaper in a case like this,” said David Jay, Hudson’s attorney and a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer. “It is the first time I have seen anything like this in 35 years.”
The case is not a special prosecutor’s search for a confidential source leaking government documents, or a whistle blower prosecution of corrupt public officials. It’s actually a criminal racketeering trial in which four union officials in the Niagara Falls area are accused of strong-arming local residents and extorting businesses.
The investigation into Laborers Local 91 has already resulted in seven guilty pleas, with four other union officials awaiting trial in June, according to The Buffalo News. Among those set to go to court are former Local 91 President Mark Congi and Joel Cicero, a former union training director.
Attorney Joseph LaTona, who represents Cicero, requested the subpoena for Hudson’s reporting materials in July 2005. He declined to comment on what he expected to find in the reporting information to help his client, but hinted that it involves comments made to The Reporter by Joseph Aragon, a business owner who accused the union of pressuring him to shut down his local pizza franchise.
The editor was originally ordered to hand over the materials by Sept. 9, 2005, close to the time the criminal trial was to begin. But, as the trial date was delayed, so was the date for surrendering the material, said Jay.
Hudson, who has operated his 22,000-circulation paper since 2000, has actively covered the legal proceedings against the union leaders with stories that called them a “goon squad,” Cicero “a henchman,” and Congi a “union thug.” He contends that the coverage has brought him trouble, including a beating in a men’s room in which his nose was broken.
On Jan. 4, 2006, Jay filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which will be heard in a hearing set for Feb. 16, 2006. “They have to come forward with some reason why this material is relevant,” Jay said. “I have no clue what reason they would have.” LaTona declined to explain his purpose for the subpoena, saying, “I will do it in my response [to the motion to quash] I will file in court.”
Hudson said the court battle has cost him thousands of dollars in legal fees, as well as lost time that he normally spends on his newspaper. “It is a form of harassment,” he said of the subpoena.