Newsgathering

Documenting Your Vote: California Election Laws

The CMLP is currently doing research on the state laws regulating activities at polling places on Election Day.  Our specific focus is on laws that impact voters' ability to document their own voting experiences through video and still photography, as well as their ability to carry out other newsgathering functions, such as interviewing other voters outside of polling places.  In this post, I'll look at how California's election laws affect these activities.

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Big Media Challenges Constitutionality of Minnesota Polling Restriction

ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and the Associated Press have joined forces to challenge a Minnesota statute that forbids non-voters to stand within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place on election day.  In their complaint, the media companies allege that this restriction, as applied to their planned exit polling activities, violates the First Amendment.

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Montana Shield Law Protects Anonymous Commenters

Judge Todd Baugh of Montana's 13th Judicial District ruled on Wednesday that Montana's shield law protects an online newspaper from having to disclose the identities of anonymous commenters. The ruling treats anonymous commenters like other confidential sources, whose identities are commonly protected by state shield laws.

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FBI v. Wolf

Date: 

02/06/2006

Threat Type: 

Subpoena

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Joshua Wolf

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the North District of California

Case Number: 

3:06-xr-90064

Legal Counsel: 

Daniel Mark Siegel; Jose Luis Fuentes; Martin Garbus; David A Greene

Publication Medium: 

Broadcast
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations subpoenaed video blogger and freelance journalist Josh Wolf for information regarding a political demonstration that resulted in harm to a police officer. The FBI sought the identities of protestors who appeared in Wolf's video recording of the protest, which Wolf claimed was an attempt by the government to use a journalist (himself) as an investigative tool.

On July 8, 2005, Wolf filmed a San Francisco demonstration against the G8 summit in Scotland. During the course of the protest, a San Francisco police officer was injured, and protestors allegedly damaged a police car. Wolf published an edited version of the video on independant news site Indybay and also sold footage to local TV station KRON.

As part of an investigation into the officer's injury, the FBI subpoenaed Wolf to appear in front of a federal grand jury. The subpoena asked Wolf to produce the full video and any other documentation regarding the protest. The subpoena also sought information regarding the identities of individuals who appeared in the video.

Wolf filed a motion to quash the subpoena, claiming protection under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and California's journalist shield law. The North District of California denied Wolf's motion to quash. The court focused on federal journalist protections and held that Wolf was required to comply with the subpoena because he had not demonstrated that the grand jury investigation was conducted in bad faith.

After Wolf again refused to comply with the subpoena, the court ordered him to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt of court. Wolf again asserted his First Amendment rights, as well as his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Wolf's arguments were supported by amicus briefs by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The court rejected Wolf's and the amici's arguments on grounds similar to those in its denial of Wolf's motion to quash. It held Wolf in contempt and ordered that he be confined until he complied with the subpoena. Wolf and his lawyers appealed the order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit granted a motion allowing Wolf to leave prison on bail. However, the court soon after revoked bail persuant to a motion by the FBI. The court then affirmed the district court's contempt ruling and ordered Wolf to testify and reveal the unpubished portions fo the tape. The 9th Circuit's decision agreed with the district court's holding that Wolf could not legitimately refuse to comply with the subpoena without demonstrating that the grand jury was conducted in bad faith.

The FBI and Wolf ultimately settled the case. Wolf published the full version of the video online and filed a DVD copy with the court. In return, he was released from prison and did not have to testify in front of the grand jury. Wolf had served 226 days in prison, the longest term ever served by a journalist for refusing to disclose unpublished source material.

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Oregon v. Lewis

Threat Type: 

Subpoena

Date: 

07/01/2008

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Tim Lewis

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Oregon District Court, Lane County

Publication Medium: 

Website

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Withdrawn

Description: 

Independent videographer Tim Lewis refused to comply with a Lane County, Oregon, grand jury subpoena for video he filmed of a May 30, 2008, incident where police tasered Ian Van Ornum, a student protester.  Lewis argued that Oregon's reporter shield law, Or. Rev. Stat. § 44.520,  protects him from compelled disclosure of his newsgathering materials.

The grand jury planned to examine the video to determine whether Van Ornum, or any other people attending the anti-pesticide protest he was attending, should face criminal charges.  Lewis, who edited and posted the video to YouTube, said the tape contained very little information that would be useful to the grand jury, as he didn't begin to record events until after Van Ornum had been tasered. Nonetheless, he refused to surrender the tape because he "can't set a precedent by giving it to them," according to The Register-Guard.

Update:

7/15/2008 - After Lewis, with aid from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, filed documents in court invoking the shield law, the District Attorney's office withdrew the subpoena, reports The Register Guard.

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Citizen Journalist Invokes Oregon Shield Law to Fight Subpoena

Does Oregon's reporter shield law apply to an independent journalist who publishes online?  That question looks set to be answered, thanks to the refusal of Tim Lewis to comply with a grand jury subpoena for his video of a May 30, 2008, demonstration in Eugene, Oregon, where police tasered an 18-year-old protester.

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Miami Judge Drops Hammer on Photojournalist Who Took Cops' Picture

“Photography is not a crime, it’s a First Amendment right,” proclaims the title of photojournalist Carlos Miller’s blog.  Nonetheless, a jury found Miller guilty of obstructing traffic and resisting arrest without violence during his encounter last year with five Miami police officers that he photographed on a public street.  As a result, Miami County Court Judge Jose Fernandez sentenced him to one year of probation,100 hours of community service, anger management lessons, and over $500 in court fees, well in excess of the three months

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Highlights from the Legal Guide: Access to Courts and Court Records

This is the eighth in a series of posts calling attention to topics we cover in the Citizen Media Legal Guide. In this post, we highlight the section on Access to Courts and Court Records, which provides an overview of federal and state laws that grant you the right to access federal and state court records and court proceedings.

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CMLP Launches New Legal Guide Section on Access to Government Information

Back in January, we began rolling out the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide.

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Access to Courts and Court Records

If you’re hunting for information, consider a visit to the courthouse, where you can sift through resource-rich court records or attend (sometimes colorful) court proceedings.

Courts are centers for dispute resolution. They are public forums in which societal norms and values, as reflected in laws, are used to address and correct wrongs. While a number of laws govern the court system, none is so deeply-ingrained as the presumption that court proceedings should be open to the public.

Access to Congress and the President

If you are interested in information contained in records retained by the President of the United States or the U.S. Congress, you should be aware that neither Congress nor the President are covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Instead, both the President and Congress have their own set of rules for public access to their records and have traditionally allowed substantial public access to their proceedings and documents.

Access to Government Meetings

Federal, state, and local governments often act through agencies, boards, committees, and other government "bodies." The most familiar examples of these kinds of government bodies are found at the local level -- they include school boards, city councils, boards of county commissioners, zoning and planning commissions, police review boards, and boards of library trustees. At the state level, examples include state environmental commissions, labor boards, housing boards, and tax commissions, to name a few.

Access to Government Information

This section of the legal guide outlines the wide-array of information available to you from government sources. These sources range from your local city council all the way up to the largest agencies in the federal government. In fact, you might be quite surprised at how much information is available to you. And the best part is that you generally don't need to hire a lawyer or file any complicated forms -- you can access most of this information simply by showing up or filing a relatively simple request.

Highlights from the Legal Guide: Liability for the Use of Recording Devices

This is the seventh in a series of posts calling attention to topics we cover in the Citizen Media Legal Guide. In this post, we highlight the section on Recording Phone Calls, Conversations, Meetings and Hearings, which discusses federal and state laws relating to the use of recording equipment in specific private and semi-public settings.

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Highlights from the Legal Guide: Protecting Sources and Source Material

This is the sixth in a series of posts calling attention to some of the topics covered in the Citizen Media Legal Guide we began publishing in January. This past month, we rolled out the sections on Newsgathering and Privacy, which address the legal and practical issues you may encounter as you gather documents, take photographs or video, and collect other information.

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Highlights from the Legal Guide: Gathering Private Information

This is the fifth in a series of posts calling attention to some of the topics covered in the Citizen Media Legal Guide we began publishing in January. This past month we rolled out the sections on Newsgathering and Privacy, which address the legal and practical issues you may encounter as you gather documents, take photographs or video, and collect other information.

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Citizen Media Law Project Publishes Newsgathering Section of Legal Guide

Back in January, we announced the launch of the first two major sections of the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide covering Forming a Business and Getting Online and Dealing with Online Legal Risks.

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Receiving Documents and Information from Government Sources

If you receive documents or other information relating to national security from a government employee (or other person who is authorized to access government documents and information), you could be criminally prosecuted for conspiring with that government employee to violate the federal Espionage Act, located at 18 U.S.C. § 793, or for aiding and abetting that employee's violation of the Act.

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