State Supreme Court Grants Temporary Concession for Kansas Reporter

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The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a request from a western Kansas newspaper reporter to temporarily stay an order requiring her to testify about a confidential source.

Dodge City Globe reporter Claire O’Brien was scheduled to appear before an inquisition in Ford County on Wednesday. Prosecutors are trying to force her to reveal the name of a confidential source and information from her unpublished notes.

But the state Supreme Court granted the newspaper’s request for a temporary emergency stay of enforcement of the inquisition subpoena. The court’s order said parties in the case have until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the order.

Ford County Attorney Terry Malone subpoenaed O’Brien to testify about her interview with Samuel Bonilla, who is charged with second-degree murder in the Labor Day shooting death of Steven Holt and the attempted murder of Tanner Brunson. Bonilla has said he acted in self-defense.

The newspaper has challenged the subpoena on the grounds that forcing O’Brien to testify would violate her First Amendment rights and hurt her ability to gather news.

She also has said she already told Malone what Bonilla said to her during the jailhouse interview when she called the prosecutor for comment.

Malone also is seeking the identity of confidential sources who reportedly told O’Brien for her article that one of the victims had “a base of support that is well-known for its anti-Hispanic beliefs” and has a supply of semiautomatic weapons.

“We will respond as directed by the court and see where we go,” Malone told The Associated Press.

O’Brien told the AP on Tuesday she was “heartened” by the high court’s decision.

“It is not so much about whether I win, but whether the government is allowed to have so much influence on the ability of the press to report without fear or intimidation,” O’Brien said.

An Oct. 13 Globe story quoted bail bondswoman Rebecca Escalante as saying several people had warned her Bonilla’s life would be in danger if he were released from jail.

Ford County Judge Daniel L. Love, reached at his office Tuesday evening, said he had not read the order and could not comment.

But he said earlier in January that granting a stay order would leave the investigation “stymied.”

“And it would leave Sam Bonilla’s life in danger,” Love said then. “Granting the stay order would also place a higher value on the reporter’s unfounded legal argument than it would on the safety of Sam Bonilla.”

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