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Amateur journalist jailed for contempt

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 1 month ago

Amateur journalist jailed for contempt

 

By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER

 

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge ordered an activist and freelance journalist jailed today until he gives a grand jury unedited video footage he shot of a violent July 2005 protest.

 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup found Joshua Wolf, 24, of San Francisco in contempt of court for resisting the grand jury's subpoena without just cause. Like two other judges before him, Alsup rejected Wolf's First Amendment arguments; he also ruled Wolf had proved no Fifth Amendment right to withhold the footage.

 

"The time has come to bring this to an end," the judge said before denying Wolf's attorneys' requests either for bail pending appeal or for a 10-day stay of his incarceration.

 

Wolf was led from the courtroom by deputy U.S. marshals. One returned moments later to hand Wolf's personal effects to his attorney, even as Wolf's tearful mother embraced supporters.

 

By day's end, Wolf was in a federal prison cell in Dublin, where he'll remain until he complies or until the grand jury's term is up next July. His attorneys will seek the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' review Wednesday.

 

Wolf attended and filmed a G-8 Summit protest July 8, 2005, in San Francisco's Mission District at which a police officer was seriously injured and someone might have tried to set a San Francisco police car afire.

 

Prosecutors note grand juries have broad authority to probe whether a crime occurred: perhaps the attempted car arson — potentially a federal offense, they say, as San Francisco Police get federal funding — or perhaps something else. And there's no federal "shield law" protecting journalists from federal grand juries' demands.

 

Wolf and his supporters contend the attempted car arson is a pretense, an end-run around California's strong shield law so the FBI can gather evidence for a San Francisco Police investigation. And Wolf's camp says his case is part of the federal government's national pattern of using grand juries to co-opt journalists as a de facto arm of the law, and to chill political dissent.

 

Wolf — who works full-time as outreach director for Peralta Community College District's cable television station in Oakland — put some footage on the Web soon after the protest; a few television stations picked it up, and later paid him. Prosecutors now want the unaired, unposted parts; he insists that he has no footage of any assault or attempted arson, and that prosecutors want only to identify and intimidate protesters.

 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James in April rejected Wolf's motion to quash the subpoena on First Amendment grounds. U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney later affirmed that ruling.

 

Neither Supreme Court and other appellate case law nor federal evidence and criminal procedure rules gives reporters any privilege to resist a grand jury subpoena unless the grand jury has been convened in bad faith, which all three judges in this case have concluded isn't so, Alsup said Tuesday.

 

Even if one balances competing interests under federal evidence rules, he said, "this is one that is a slam-dunk for the government." Law enforcement's need for direct evidence of a possible federal crime far outweighs Wolf's desire to keep secret footage of a public event involving no confidential sources, part of which he already sold for profit.

 

Wolf's mother, Liz Wolf-Spada, afterward told reporters in a breaking voice she's "very upset — I don't want my son in jail," but she supports him completely and will leave it to him to decide what to do next.

 

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.

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