Media & Communications Law

Ex-Prosecutor Seeks Contempt for Reporter Shielding Sources

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Former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino is seeking a contempt order and fines between $500 and $5,000 a day for a Detroit Free Press reporter who has declined to reveal his sources in a Justice Department investigation into Convertino’s handling of a now-discredited terrorism case.

David Ashenfelter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, invoked the First Amendment and his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a Dec. 8 deposition for Convertino’s lawsuit against the Justice Department, according to the Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press.

“The only question he responsively answered in more than 50 minutes of questioning was the first, when counsel for Mr. Convertino asked him to state his name for the record,” Stephen Kohn, a lawyer for Convertino, said in a court filing Tuesday.

Convertino’s suit alleges DOJ officials leaked details of the probe into his conduct thereby violating the Privacy Act of 1974.

Convertino won convictions against four North African men in the first major terrorism trial after Sept. 11, but the convictions were overturned because of withheld evidence. Convertino was later tried and acquitted of conspiring to hide evidence in the case.

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled in August that Ashenfelter must give a deposition because the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t recognize a reporter’s right t o shield sources. It’s the only circuit that doesn’t recognize a shield, the Free Press notes.

Also see: “Reporter Won’t Reveal DOJ Sources for Story on Terrorism Prosecutor”

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