A motion by Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Tony Messenger was overruled Wednesday, indicating he might have to answer a defense attorney’s questions about an interview he conducted with an accused killer.
Circuit Judge Ellen S. Roper overruled Messenger’s motion to quash the subpoena.
The interview with Shawan Daniels appeared in a column Messenger wrote that was published in the Tribune on July 6. Daniels is accused of killing Earlene Bradshaw by hitting her with a tree branch.
In the column, Messenger wrote that Daniels said she was defending herself against Bradshaw’s son, James Glenn, when she accidentally hit his mother. Messenger makes reference to witnesses to the June 27 incident who asked not to be identified by name.
The subpoena is “sort of a fishing expedition, I think” Messenger said in an interview.
Jean Maneke, Messenger’s attorney and the lawyer for the Tribune, said the public defender representing Daniels had not fulfilled the requirements of state law. “There is case law that says before you can depose a reporter, you must show that the evidence you need from the reporter is critical to your case and that there is no other source for that information,” Maneke said.
Messenger said he doubts the information he received during his July interview with Daniels is critical or that it cannot be obtained without him. He said he might answer questions in the deposition but that it depends on what he is asked.
“I don’t plan on compromising my journalistic integrity,” Messenger said.
Although Messenger said he did not think this ruling would have a permanent affect on reporters’ roles, he said he recognizes the larger implication.
“The idea of reporters being subpoenaed in cases where they interview murder defendants concerns me because of the legal cost to newspapers and how it could change aggressive reporting,” Messenger said. “It could have a chilling effect on quality reporting being done.”
Maneke agreed, saying that any time reporters are forced to testify, it taints journalists’ ability to get information from sources because they might fear that the courts will compel reporters to reveal the information they have been given.
Daniels’ trial for second-degree murder is scheduled to begin Jan. 4.