Newspaper Asks Judge to Return Soil Samples Taken From School

By: A northern New Jersey newspaper is asking a federal judge to force law enforcement authorities to return soil samples seized after the arrest of a reporter and lab technician who were investigating tainted soil at a school.

Attorneys for The Record of Bergen County argue that police violated the reporter and newspaper's First Amendment rights by taking the samples and that, since the samples have a limited shelf life, they need to be returned immediately so they can be processed by Friday.

U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise will hear arguments on the issue Tuesday afternoon.

"The Record's action in this matter conforms to the highest traditions of journalism and the First Amendment," said Bruce Rosen, an attorney for the newspaper, said a story by The Record for Tuesday's newspapers.

The reporter, Michael Gartland, and Thomas Adamkiewicz, who works for Aqua Pro-Tech Laboratories, an environmental testing firm hired by the paper, collected the samples June 2 at the West Brook Middle School in Paramus.

The newspaper has published a series of stories about pesticides found in soil at the school and how school and district officials did not inform parents or staff about the discovery.

Paramus Mayor James Tedesco closed the school while the soil was being removed and while the school grounds and building were tested.

Gartland and Adamkiewicz were arrested after collecting the samples and charged with trespassing. A Record photographer with the duo, Tariq Zehawi, was allowed to leave before the arrests although Zehawi was later charged with trespassing as well.

The newspaper contends that materials journalists gather through the course of their work are also protected by the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.

The borough and a number of police officers are named in the suit, and, in addition to the return of the soil samples, the newspaper is seeking unspecified damages and attorney's fees.


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