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Kan. high court refuses to shield reporter from testifying

By The Associated Press
02.03.10

DODGE CITY, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court yesterday denied a request to stop a subpoena that orders a reporter to testify about sources in a murder investigation.

The state Supreme Court issued its one-paragraph ruling after considering the petition by Gatehouse Media Kansas Holdings II and Dodge City Daily Globe reporter Claire O'Brien.

Ford County Attorney Terry Malone has said he wants O’Brien to hand over notes from an interview with a murder suspect and divulge the identity of a confidential source who suggested the man acted in self-defense.

Malone said yesterday that he was "pleased" with the court's decision, which requires O'Brien to testify at the trial later this month.

"We believe that the law was on the side of law enforcement and that under these circumstances that no privilege did exist or should exist in this investigation of a criminal case," Malone said.

The newspaper challenged the subpoena on the grounds that forcing O'Brien to testify would violate her First Amendment rights and hurt her ability to gather news.

"We believe reporters should have the right to pursue the news unfettered by the government," Gene Lehman, the Daily Globe’s managing editor, said yesterday. "We're obviously disappointed in the decision. We will be examining our options tomorrow."

The Kansas Supreme Court last month granted a temporary stay of the subpoena. The court said yesterday that after considering the matter it has denied the request to block the subpoena.

Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said the ruling sends an "unmistakably chilling message" to reporters and their sources.

"Reporters won't be able to do their jobs and sources will not come forward now that they see that the strong arm of government can be used to silence them," Anstaett said in an e-mailed statement.

"I think they're mistaken and ... perhaps they don't really understand the facts of this case," Malone said of the KPA's reaction.

Anstaett also said the decision pointed out the need for a shield law in Kansas to protect reporters and their sources.

A proposed shield law introduced last year remains in the state Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would protect journalists from being forced to disclose information they have gathered.

Prosecutors are seeking O'Brien's notes from her interview with Samuel Bonilla, who is charged in the Labor Day shooting death of Steven Holt and the shooting of Tanner Brunson. Bonilla has said he acted in self-defense.

O'Brien said she already told Malone what Bonilla said to her during the jailhouse interview when she called the prosecutor for comment.

Malone also is seeking the identity of a confidential source who reportedly told O'Brien for her article that one of the victims had "a base of support that is well-known for its anti-Hispanic beliefs" and has a supply of semiautomatic weapons.

Malone said Bonilla wanted his story to be published and that was the reason Bonilla went to the reporter.

"I don't know what's chilling about that," he said. "We just want the whole story, not just the part the reporter chose to put in there."


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Kan. reporter ordered to testify at murder trial
Claire O'Brien receives subpoena day after state high court blocked prosecution efforts to force her to hand over notes from interview with suspect. 01.22.10

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