States Side with ‘SF Chron’ Reporters

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Twenty-four states filed a brief on behalf of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, telling a federal appeals court that public interest demands the recognition of a journalist’s right to protect confidential sources.

In papers filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, the states, led by New York, challenged a federal judge’s order to imprison the reporters who refused to testify about who leaked them secret grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and other athletes.

Most of the states have some type of media shield law. They urged the court to adopt a reporter’s privilege in federal court, where one does not exist.

“Here, the states’ broad protection for reporters weighs in favor of recognizing a common law reporters’ privilege,” the states argued.

In August, a federal judge found reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada in contempt of court for refusing to reveal how they obtained transcripts from a grand jury that investigated whether the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative supplied steroids to professional athletes.

Judge Jeffrey White sentenced the reporters to up to 18 months in prison unless they testify. They remain free while their case is being considered by the San Francisco-based appeals court.

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12.

In addition to New York, the states that signed the brief are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, also supported Williams and Fainaru-Wada.

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