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Reporter Scores Victory in Fight to Protect Confidential Sources

The press scored a big victory in Detroit on Tuesday when a federal judge ruled that a Detroit Free Press reporter did not have to disclose sources during a deposition because he feared incriminating himself. It’s an interesting defense and an interesting ruling.

David Ashenfelter

David Ashenfelter

By Sandra Svoboda
Detroit Metro Times
DETROIT — Veteran journalist David Ashenfelter had been ordered three times to submit to a deposition in a former federal prosecutor’s lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department.

The former prosecutor, Richard Convertino, is seeking the identity of an unnamed source or sources in a January 2004article Ashenfelter wrote about an internal investigation into Convertino’s handling of a high-profile terrorism-related trial following 9/11.

Convertino won convictions against three of the four men tried, but those verdicts were overturned after it was discovered Convertino withheld evidence from the defense.

Convertino alleges that the leak was a violation of his rights under the federal Privacy Act. He can’t win his case without knowing who talked to Ashenfelter, his attorney has said.

Ashenfelter faced the possibility of jail or fines for contempt of court if he didn’t cooperate with the deposition.

Although U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland had previously ruled that Ashenfelter had to answer questions from Convertino’s attorney, Tuesday in a closed-door deposition Cleland agreed with Ashenfelter and the paper’s attorneys that the Pulitzer Prize winner had sufficient grounds for a Fifth Amendment defense – in other words he could refuse to answer questions on the grounds of possible self-incrimination.

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Time April 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm

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