By: Gina Holland, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Updated at 4:45 p.m. EST
A novice crime writer jailed since July for withholding notes from a grand jury has turned to the Supreme Court in her bid for freedom.
Vanessa Leggett wants the court to use her case to give writers and reporters more rights to protect the confidentiality of their sources.
She has refused to hand over all of her research for a book about the shooting death of a Texas socialite to a grand jury investigating the victim’s husband.
An appeals court has already said a judge acted properly in jailing her for contempt of court. Leggett asked the Supreme Court this week to overturn the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision.
“Courts have repeatedly acknowledged the chilling effect and resulting self-censorship that discovery of a journalist’s unpublished information can have on the gathering and reporting of news,” her lawyer, Mike DeGeurin, wrote in urging the court to hear her appeal.
Leggett, 33, has been in a Houston federal detention center since July 20 for turning down the grand jury’s request for all her records. The grand jury is expected to end its investigation on Friday, but prosecutors have said they will oppose bail for Leggett until she complies with the subpoena.
DeGeurin has asked a federal judge in Texas to release her when the grand jury dissolves. He said even if she is freed this week, a Supreme Court decision would affect future efforts to jail her over the records.
“This case has the potential to impact every journalist working in the United States,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Dalglish said although Leggett is not a traditional reporter, news organizations should support her because “we’re all stuck with whatever comes out of the case.”
Stephen Wermiel, a media law professor at American University, said Leggett has a long-shot chance of persuading the Supreme Court to relax confidentiality standards for journalists.
“The court has said pretty clearly over and over again there is no absolute privilege on the part of reporters to protect sources,” Wermiel said. “It’s one the media establishment doesn’t like and continues to fight, but I don’t see any reason to think the Supreme Court is ready to change the law on this.”
Leggett’s research involves Doris Angleton, who was shot a dozen times in her home in an exclusive Houston area in 1997. Robert Angleton, a former millionaire bookie, was acquitted in 1998 of state charges in his wife’s death.
Leggett’s attorney said in arguments mailed to the Supreme Court on Monday that different courts have varying interpretations of writers’ First Amendment rights.
Justices will announce later whether they will hear the case.