Guild Joins Coalition Opposing Subpoena of NY Times Reporter

Oct. 11, 2017 – The NewsGuild-CWA joined 48 media organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief on Oct. 6 in support of a New York Times reporter who is seeking to quash a subpoena for her testimony and notes from a jailhouse interview with Conrado Juarez, who is on trial for the murder of “Baby Hope.” The reporter, Frances Robles, is a member of The NewsGuild-CWA’s New York chapter, The NewsGuild of New York.

“It is absolutely necessary for reporters to be able to develop trust and relationships with sources and protect their materials gathered during the reporting process,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in an Oct. 10 press release. “Forcing them to reveal either in court threatens their ability to bring important and newsworthy information to light.”

New York Times Reporter and Guild member Frances Robles

The brief to the New York Court of Appeals asserts that New York’s Shield Law protects Robles from being forced to testify because it recognizes that, in addition to confidential sources and materials, nonconfidential work product is also privileged.

The qualified privilege “protects journalists’ ability to cultivate the trust of sources of newsworthy information,” the brief states. “Sources who believe that reporters are likely to be forced to testify against them in court, even on nonconfidential matters, or who believe that reporters are investigative agents of the government, may refuse to speak to reporters at all.”

“It is the public, ultimately, that benefits from these effects of the privilege,” the brief states. “Reporters’ ability to protect nonconfidential information from disclosure is essential to the free flow of information from the news media to the public. Without the privilege, the news media – and thereby, the public – would lose its source of information on matters of public concern such as crime, corporate malfeasance, and government corruption.”

State Supreme Court Justice Bonnie G. Wittner ruled in August 2016 that Robles must testify about her jailhouse interview with the accused killer, but stayed her ruling pending Robles’ appeal, the New York Times reported last year.

“The ‘reporter’s privilege’ greatly enhances journalists’ ability to inform the people,” said Guild President Bernie Lunzer. “Infringements on this privilege will harm the public.”

In addition to the Guild, the coalition of organizations filing the brief includes publishers and press freedom organizations. A list is available in the brief.