Journalist found in contempt of court
Jailed for refusing federal subpoena
Josh Wolf, 24, was jailed eariler today after Federal Judge William
Alsup found Wolf in contempt of court, a charge brought about
by federal investigators purportedly interested in Wolf's videotape
footage identifying anarchists who may have been involved in torching
a San Francisco police car at a 2005 G8 protest demonstration.
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
August 1, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A freelance video journalist was
found in contempt of court and ordered jailed by a federal judge
in San Francisco today for refusing to turn over a videotape of
a demonstration to a U.S. grand jury.
Josh Wolf, 24, was taken into custody and led out of the courtroom
by a deputy U.S. marshal after U.S. District Judge William Alsup
found him in contempt of court.
Alsup said, "There is no reporter's privilege" under
federal law, as set by a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972,
to refuse to respond to a grand jury subpoena.
"The grand jury has a legitimate need" to see the tape
of the July 2005 protest in San Francisco, Alsup said.
Wolf's lawyer, Jose Fuentes, said outside of court that he will
immediately file an already prepared notice of appeal with the
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Fuentes said he will file a brief within several days asking
the appeals court to grant Wolf release on bail during the appeal.
He said he did not know to which jail or prison Wolf will be taken.
The demonstration in the Mission District of the city on July
8, 2005, was an anarchist protest of the Group of Eight summit
meeting then being held in Scotland.
During the melee, an officer was injured and an apparent fire
or smoke bomb was set under or near a police car.
The federal grand jury is investigating possible attempted arson
of the police car, which would be a violation of a U.S. law that
makes it a crime to use fire or explosives to damage a vehicle
owned by an institution that receives federal funds. Like many
law enforcement agencies, the San Francisco Police Department
receives some federal money.
Fuentes argued unsuccessfully that the federal connection to
the case was "remote and tenuous" and that any investigation
should be carried out by local rather than federal authorities.
Unlike federal law, California law does include a shield law
that generally protects reporters' materials.
But Alsup said that although it is not yet clear whether arson
actually occurred, "The grand jury has a legitimate right
to look into violations of that law."
The judge also turned down Wolf's lawyer's request that he try
to balance the needs of Wolf and the grand jury.
Alsup said the case was a "slam dunk" for the government
because the videotaped incident occurred in public and no confidential
sources were involved.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan, who had sought the contempt
order, argued that Wolf was "placing himself above every
other citizen in our society" in refusing to turn over his
Finigan contended that any damage to Wolf's ability to work as
a reporter was his own responsibility because he had publicized
the dispute in news conferences and on his Web site.
Alsup told Wolf as he was led out of the courtroom, "In
no way is this punitive. When you change your mind, let the marshals
know and you will be released."
Wolf could be kept in prison until the grand jury's term expires
in July of next year.
The judge used similar language when he found personal trainer
Greg Anderson in contempt of court and ordered him jailed on July
5 for refusing to testify before a different grand jury investigating
possible perjury by professional athletes in a sports steroids
Anderson, whose clients include San Francisco Giants slugger
Barry Bonds, was jailed for 15 days until that grand jury's term
He was then given a second subpoena to testify before a new grand
jury and last week appeared in court before a different federal
judge in a closed hearing. Anderson left the federal courthouse
without being jailed and the outcome of that hearing has not been
Today's hearing before Alsup was the fourth of four hearings
before three different judges in which Wolf sought to oppose the
subpoena issued on Feb. 6.
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