Subpoena Defense Initiative

Legal Work

Subpoena Defense Initiative

The First Amendment’s protections are not self-enforcing. So while the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free press, it often requires lawyers to make that guarantee real — to fight in court and elsewhere to make sure the First Amendment’s promise is kept. But legal defense can be costly. That’s why FAC launched its Subpoena Defense Initiative: to make sure journalists who lack access to qualified legal counsel get representation — at no cost to them — when they face a subpoena seeking their confidential sources or other protected materials.

About our Subpoena Defense Initiative

  • Subpoena Defense Initiative Threats to a free press

Subpoenas can pose a direct threat to journalistic freedom. When someone enlists the power of the courts to compel journalists to testify or turn over unpublished materials, they undermine the ability of the press to operate independently of the government. The majority of states have enacted and most federal circuits have recognized a journalist’s right to refuse to disclose such materials.

  • Subpoena Defense Initiative Who We Serve

Independent or freelance journalists and those who work for small or nonprofit news organizations are often the most vulnerable to a threat of legal action, including a subpoena. FAC responds rapidly to requests for help connect journalists with qualified legal counsel. Many if not most of these journalists have no ready access to legal counsel to assist them if they are subpoenaed.

  • Subpoena Defense Initiative Legal Training

FAC provides free legal seminars for lawyers interested in defending journalists. Attend one of our upcoming seminars. The goal of the program is to equip interested attorneys with specific knowledge of the procedural and substantive challenges of defending subpoenaed journalists, as well as build a roster of qualified attorneys FAC can call on when the need arises.
San Francisco | NYC | Washington, DC 

defending press freedom

Success Stories

“Within hours of being released from police custody as officers illegally tried to get me to reveal a news source, David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition rushed to my defense. He provided invaluable support following the traumatic invasion of privacy on my home and business.”

Bryan Carmody - AP Photo

Bryan Carmody

independent journalist

Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside

Emilie Raguso

Berkeleyside

“When an investigator showed up at my door with a subpoena in a criminal case, and told me I would have to testify to impeach a witness, I had no idea what to do. My news organization is tiny, and we had never dealt with this before. Thankfully, the First Amendment Coalition was there. FAC responded quickly to my request for assistance, and provided helpful context and advice about how to proceed. FAC acted fast to link me up with pro bono attorneys to fight the subpoena, and ultimately I did not have to testify…Knowing FAC was on my side made a scary situation much less stressful.”

for journalists 

Resources

  • SHIELD LAW WORKSHOP | VIDEO

This Shield Law Workshop for journalists provides an overview of California and federal laws that help reporters protect their confidential sources and unpublished newsgathering materials. The 90-minute session includes presentations by Aaron Field, media lawyer, Cannata O’Toole Fickes & Olson, and Victoria Baranetsky, general counsel, the Center for Investigative Reporting, along with an interview with Ryan Mac, a senior technology reporter at Buzzfeed who was targeted by multiple subpoenas related to his work in 2019.

Presented by FAC and the Freedom of Information Committee of SPJ NorCal on June 2, 2020. WATCH THE VIDEO

Press Freedom Defense Fund

This initiative is in partnership with the Press Freedom Defense Fund, a project of First Look Media Works, Inc., publisher of The Intercept. The fund provides essential legal support for journalists, news organizations and whistleblowers who are targeted by powerful figures because they have tried to bring light information that is in the public interest and necessary for a functioning democracy. Learn more about PFDF.