Why Don't Prosecutors Want to Let Her Go?
November 26, 2001 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Why Don't Prosecutors Want to Let Her Go? An interesting article from Texas Monthly about journalist Vanessa Leggett, currently clocking record-setting jail time for refusing to turn over names of her sources. The article speculates on the rationale for the prosecution's hard line. (via Romenesko)
posted by BT (13 comments total)
Why? Because they're jerks. Life is much easier to understand after you lump people into "jerk" and "not a jerk" categories.
posted by fleener at 3:14 PM on November 26, 2001

Why won't they let her go? The author of that article nails it by saying, "I think Clark [the prosecuter] knows he's in a jam here, but he doesn't want to humiliate himself by backing down and letting Leggett go." That's probably all there is to it.

This is outrageous, but not all that surprising. The First Amendment? Most U.S. prosecuters seem to have never heard of it, judging by their actions.
posted by Potsy at 6:19 PM on November 26, 2001

Oops, s/prosecuter/prosecutor/.
posted by Potsy at 6:20 PM on November 26, 2001

Um. The first amendment allows you to publish whatever you want to. It dosn't give you the right to keep information from law enforcement...
posted by delmoi at 6:54 PM on November 26, 2001

Yes -- the interesting thing about this case is precisely that it doesn't involve a clear-cut, legally established right: courts have not recognized such a right in this country.

However, there is also the question of whether the definition of a "free press" might reasonably include the routine protection of their sources by journalists. Would anyone whistleblow (about corruption, for example) if the routine practice was for journalists to be compelled to deliver up their sources by the authorities?
posted by BT at 7:44 PM on November 26, 2001

The routine practice is for journalists not to give up their sources, to spend a few days in the hoosegow, and then to be thrown out with a "Giddoutta here, ya filthy stinkin press-rat". Basically, it's because DA's are elected and newspapers whose journalists are held in prisons tend not to endorse DAs who imprison journalists for re-election.

Of course, here she doesn't have an organization protecting her. You'd think her family's social connections would've sprung her now.

Personally, I wouldn't give up my material if I was her. When you're a writer, a lot of the reasons that people will talk to you (especially in the true crime field) is under the condition that they will be kept anonymous. People talking to you is what makes your books/articles worth reading. Therefore, your trustworthiness is what makes you a good writer. If you sacrifice that trustworthiness, you're sacrificing your career and yourself.
posted by SpecialK at 8:34 PM on November 26, 2001

delmoi: True, dat. My mistake.
posted by Potsy at 9:24 PM on November 26, 2001

Although, the article does say: "Clark went so far as to demand that Leggett not be allowed to keep any copy of her tapes and transcripts for herself, which essentially would keep her from writing a book." That's crossing into both 4th and 1st amendment territory, directly and indirectly.
posted by Potsy at 9:28 PM on November 26, 2001

The law is pretty clear when it comes down to "confidential" sources to the press. "The First Amendment ... does not afford (a newspaper reporter) a constitutional testimonial privilege for an agreement he makes to conceal facts relevant to a grand jury's investigation of a crime." (Cite Branzberg v Hayes.) It's even clear concerning fourth amendment issues of seizing evidence from reporters, "There is no authority either in history or in the Constitution itself for exempting certain classes of persons or entities from its reach." (Cite Zurcher v Stanford Daily)... but nowhere in the landmark cases does the Supreme Court allow a prosecutor to permanently seize a reporter's notes and tapes forever, once her duty to the judicial system is discharged.

I think Clark expected to get what he wanted early on, evidentiary-wise, and when it wasn't forthcoming, he got annoyed and let that blind his judgment. By law, he's mostly right to remand her until she coughs up the information- but by claiming possession of her property, he overstepped his authority and he's screwed. Can't let her go without substantially changing his demands; can't change his demands without appearing weak and ineffective.
posted by headspace at 3:41 AM on November 27, 2001

What is a "white-shoe lawyer" (from the article)?
posted by kerplunk at 5:20 AM on November 27, 2001

white-shoe adj. Of or being a long-established business known for reputable service and a wealthy clientele: “took a job at … [a] pronouncedly white-shoe investment-banking firm” (Connie Bruck). (via Atomica)
posted by Carol Anne at 6:04 AM on November 27, 2001

Not Another Word A 71-year-old sportswriter refuses to give up his sources.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:12 AM on November 28, 2001

I want a red-shoe laywer.
posted by rodii at 8:28 AM on November 28, 2001

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