Video journalist seeks to block
federal grand jury subpoena
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
March 31, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A freelance journalist asked a federal
magistrate in San Francisco today to block a grand jury subpoena
for his videotapes and notes on a clash between protesters and
police last year.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James, after holding a hearing,
said she will issue a written ruling later on the request by Josh
Wolf for quashing of a federal grand jury subpoena.
The protest in the Mission District of San Francisco on July
8, 2005, concerned the Group of Eight summit meeting then being
held in Scotland.
A police officer, Peter Shields, was injured when he was hit
on the back of the head during the clash. Charges against three
people are pending in San Francisco Superior Court in connection
with the incident.
The subpoena served by the FBI requires Wolf to provide "all
documents, writings and recordings related to protest activities
conducted in San Francisco" between 6:30 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.
on July 8 as well any cameras and recording devices that he used.
Wolf contends the demand violates his constitutional First Amendment
right of free expression and goes beyond federal court doctrines
on when journalists can be required to testify in a criminal investigation.
Dan Siegel, a lawyer for Wolf, argued before James that the FBI
was on an illegal "fishing expedition" aimed at aiding
the separate local investigation by San Francisco police and prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors have argued in court papers that federal
investigators are entitled to look into a possible federal crime
of attempting to damage Shields' patrol car with fire or explosives,
because the San Francisco Police Department receives some funding
from the federal government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan told James, "There
is potential for a federal crime here and that's all that needs
to be shown."
Siegel contended that any federal connection was "a thin
thread" and said a smoke bomb and firecrackers used in the
protest were not intended to set the patrol car on fire.
Outside of court, Wolf, 23, of San Francisco, said he believes
that if the subpoena is allowed to stand, "that means that
any journalist who covers anything related to a crime is essentially
working as an investigator for the state."
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