Oct 9, 2009

Experts: L.A. sheriff flouts state's shield law

Investigators with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department appear to have overstepped their authority when they obtained phone records of TMZ founder Harvey Levin as part of a probe to figure out who leaked information about Mel Gibson's 2006 drunk driving arrest to the gossip site.

From the Los Angeles Times:
"That's illegal," said Lucy Dalglish, an attorney and executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Most law enforcement agencies know it's illegal . . . or have a hard time getting a judge signing off on it."
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore, himself a former journalist, said investigators went after the phone records only after a judge signed off on a search warrant. He told the Times:
"What we did we believe was legal."
But experts in media law questioned that assertion, saying that, in addition to First Amendment's free-press protections, California's constitution explicitly spells out rights for journalists. Again from the Times:
Legal experts said the California Constitution protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources.

State law, they said, also bars judges from issuing search warrants for unpublished information that is gathered by reporters. ...

[District attorney's office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons] noted that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has a written policy on search warrants, which says they "cannot be used to obtain the source of any news information."

"He feels strongly about not infringing upon a reporter's rights," Gibbons said.
(Found via LA Observed)

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