Press&Policy

Wisconsin judge denies request to subpoena TV station

Posted in Reporter's privilege by foiguy on May 21, 2013

In one of the first court decisions on Wisconsin’s statutory shield law, a judge has denied a prosecutor’s request to subpoena a television station.

Dane County Circuit Judge Rebecca St. John ruled Monday that the district attorney there, Ismael Ozanne, could not force Madison’s WISC-TV to release unaired portions of an interview with a sexual assault victim.

St. John based her decision on Wisconsin’s statutory shield law, Wis. Stat. § 885.14. The law says a subpoena directed at a journalist seeking unpublished information must be issued by a court, and only under the following criteria:

  1. The news, information, or identity of the source is highly relevant to the investigation, prosecution, action, or proceeding.
  2. The news, information, or identity of the source is necessary to the maintenance of a party’s claim, defense, or to the proof of an issue material to the investigation, prosecution, action, or proceeding.
  3. The news, information, or identity of the source is not obtainable from any alternative source for the investigation, prosecution, action, or proceeding.
  4. There is an overriding public interest in the disclosure of the news, information, or identity of the source.

St. John held that the DA met the first requirement – that the unpublished material was highly relevant to the sexual assault investigation. But the DA failed to meet the three remaining requirements.

In her ruling, St. John recognized why the DA sought the subpoena and wrote that she “lauds the State in its effort to thoroughly investigate before bringing sexual assault charges.”

“Prosecutors have an incredibly weighty job,” St. John wrote. “They must decide whether and when to bring criminal charges against someone in the course of a dynamic investigation that could go on indefinitely and that may turn up incomplete, inconsistent, or inaccurate information.”

Monday’s ruling is at least the second time a circuit court judge has applied the state’s statutory shield law, which was enacted in 2010. A Sauk County judge in November rejected a request from the state Department of Justice to subpoena three reporters.

WISC-TV was represented by Ian Pitz of Michael Best & Friedrich’s Madison office.

Additional coverage from WISC-TV and the Wisconsin State Journal.

Read St. John’s ruling

View this document on Scribd

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