Newspaper claims constitutional protection in withholding jailhouse interview notes from county attorney

A Kansas county prosecutor has issued a subpoena to the Dodge City Daily Globe and reporter Claire O’Brien to obtain her notes, testimony and the identity of an anonymous source concerning a Labor Day shooting that left one man dead. The prosecutor says he is trying to obtain the information from other sources so O’Brien and the newspaper does not have to become, in the newspapers’  words, “an investigative agent for the government.” -DB

Dodge City Daily Globe
November 4, 2009
By Eric Swanson

DODGE CITY, Kan. — The Daily Globe is challenging efforts to obtain a reporter’s notes and testimony related to a jailhouse interview with Samuel Bonilla, who is charged with shooting two men over the Labor Day weekend.

Attorney William Hurst, who is representing the Globe and reporter Claire O’Brien, filed a motion Monday to quash the subpoena.
The motion contends that Ford County Attorney Terry Malone, who issued the subpoena, is trying to convert O’Brien from an independent reporter into an investigative agent for the government.

“That is particularly the case here, where the reporter’s testimony is ostensibly being sought to determine whether some unspecified crime has been committed, and not in connection with an ongoing prosecution for crimes allegedly already committed,” it said. “Under the federal constitution, as construed by the courts of this State, a subpoena that undermines the ability of the press to serve its important public functions without advancing a substantial law enforcement or judicial need should be quashed. That is precisely the case here.”

O’Brien was set to appear at an inquisition on the issue Tuesday afternoon, but that proceeding has been postponed to give Malone time to respond to Hurst’s motion. Oral arguments on that issue are scheduled for Nov. 20.

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