Emilie Raguso, senior reporter for Berkeleyside, was subpoenaed in December 2017 to testify in a criminal trial about statements made by one of her sources. Raguso fought the subpoena, and it was dropped on Jan. 2, 2018.
Raguso had been reporting on a man named William Turner, who had a string of arrests for crimes involving children, including public indecency and harassing a child.
Raguso told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that an investigator with the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office contacted her, both through email and Facebook, to ask her about statements that one of Raguso's victims had made. Raguso had used the victim’s statements in her reporting.
In mid-December 2017, she said, the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office investigator showed up at her apartment and issued her a subpoena to testify in Turner’s criminal trial. Raguso had been covering the case for months but, as a result of the subpoena, was unable to hear and report on the testimony of the main victim in the case.
“It will impact and limit how I am able to cover the story, which does not serve the community,” she said of the subpoena.
Raguso wrote in a Dec. 26 declaration that as a journalist, she must remain objective and detached from active participation in stories that she covers.
“My participation as a witness will also compromise my ability and effectiveness in covering future stories about Defendant Turner — whom I have been covering for some time now — thereby further affecting my ability to do my job in the future.”
Her attorneys filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Dec. 27, arguing that California’s “press shield law” protected Raguso from being compelled to testify about unpublished information.
“The subpoena that was issued by the public defender in this case to Emilie was not in any way limited to just published material,” Zachary Colbeth, Raguso’s attorney, told the Freedom of the Press Foundation in an email. “We also believe that had Emilie been compelled to testify, both the public defender and the prosecution would have inevitably wandered, or been tempted to wander, into seeking testimony about unpublished materials.”
The subpoena was dropped on Jan. 2, 2018. According to Colbeth, the public defender's office withdrew the subpoena after questioning the alleged victim in the case, making the motion to quash the subpoena moot.
“It was disturbing to me how aggressive they were in trying to get me to testify,” Raguso said. “To bring me in as a third party seemed like an inappropriate role for a journalist to have.”