Media & Communications Law

Prosecutor Must Specify Injustice to Obtain Reporter’s Notes, Court Says

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A Minnesota appeals court has ruled that a journalist does not have to turn over notes of a phone call with a gunman who shot two police officers before he committed suicide.

The court said the state’s shield law protected the notes of Mankato Free Press reporter Dan Nienaber, CNHI News Service reports.

The gunman, Jeffrey Skjervold, had barricaded himself in a home in Amboy, Minn., during a domestic dispute in December 2006. Nienaber had reached Skjervold on the phone when he was calling homes in the community to find out why police were at the scene.

The court said the county attorney failed to show that the reporters’ notes were needed to satisfy a compelling and overriding interest necessary to prevent injustice, as required by the statute.

“Essentially, the county attorney argues that it needs to conduct discovery to find an injustice, but declines to connect the discovery to a particular injustice,” the court wrote in its opinion (PDF). “We conclude that the statute requires that the particular injustice be identified.”

Minnesota is one of 37 states with shield laws to protect journalists from having to disclose confidential sources and notes.

Updated 11:39 a.m. CST to indicate the correct number of states that have shield laws.

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