Monday, December 21, 2015

Vt. weekly fights subpoenas seeking info gathered for stories on alleged sex abuse by state senator

Three journalists for Seven Days, an alternative weekly in Burlington, Vt., are fighting subpoenas seeking information they gathered for news articles about sexual-assault claims against Republican state Sen. Norm McAllister. Terri Hallenbeck reports for Seven Days, "Reporter Mark Davis, Political Editor Paul Heintz and News Editor Matthew Roy were subpoenaed on Nov. 19" and directed to appear in Franklin County Superior Court Dec. 23 by Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler. Wheeler, who has delayed the appearance at the newspaper's request, said she "issued the subpoenas because Seven Days' staffers spoke directly to McAllister and one of the victims." (Best Places map)

"Davis and Heintz wrote news articles that included material from interviews with the senator, and Heintz interviewed one of his alleged victims," Hallenbeck reports. "Heintz has also written political columns about McAllister. McAllister, who was arrested May 7 at the Statehouse in Montpelier, has pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of sexual assault and three misdemeanor counts of prohibited acts."

Paula Routly, the paper’s publisher and co-editor, said in a written statement: "As the Founders recognized, democracy requires a free and vibrant press. That freedom is threatened when lawyers demand to put reporters on the witness stand, peer into their notebooks and otherwise deputize them as agents of law enforcement. Seven Days is serving its readers by reporting this story—and standing up for the First Amendment by challenging these subpoenas."

The newspaper’s lawyer, Robert Hemley, "argued in court papers last week that the Vermont Supreme Court has upheld that lawyers cannot demand reporters reveal information without proving there is no other way to obtain the information and that it’s vital to proving innocence or guilt," Hallenbeck writes.

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