Judge quashes subpoena for broadcast reporter’s testimony in assault trial connected to BLM protest
A Dane County judge quashed a subpoena for testimony issued to Lance Veeser, a broadcast reporter WKOW-TV, on Oct. 18, 2021, during the Madison, Wisconsin trial of an alleged assault of a state senator.
In August 2021, the Dane County district attorney subpoenaed Veeser, WORT reporter Chali Pittman and Isthmus senior reporter Dylan Brogan for eyewitness testimony around the 2020 assault of Sen. Tim Carpenter at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Pittman told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2022 that Isthmus attorney Andrew Erlandson filed an emergency appeal during a pre-trial hearing on Oct. 15, 2021, on behalf of herself and Brogan. The Dane County circuit judge ultimately denied Pittman and Brogan’s motion, compelling them to testify during the trial. Erlandson told the Tracker the decision was "not a great moment for press freedom."
Veeser, who did not respond to requests for comment, filed a separate appeal, which the judge granted a few days later, quashing the subpoena.
Lance Veeser, a broadcast reporter at WKOW, was one of three journalists subpoenaed on Aug. 5, 2021, to testify at the upcoming trial of two women charged with assaulting state Sen. Tim Carpenter at a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin.
On June 23, protesters were hostile to anyone who was filming or photographing and members of the crowd directed their ire at Carpenter when he stopped to take a photo of the demonstration, Isthmus reported at the time. A group of approximately 10 individuals then beat the senator as he attempted to identify himself.
Veeser did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Veeser posted an image to Twitter on the night of the attack, writing, “I believe this is State Senator Tim Carpenter. Minutes earlier he told us the protesters assaulted him. Then he collapsed walking towards the Capitol. We called paramedics.”
According to a court filing in opposition to the subpoenas, the Dane County district attorney’s office issued subpoenas to Veeser, WORT 89.9 reporter Chali Pittman and Isthmus senior reporter Dylan Brogan via mail to compel their eyewitness testimony. However, neither the police report about the incident nor the prosecutor’s motion in support of the subpoenas make any mention of Veeser witnessing the actual assault.
An attorney representing the journalists notified Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey they would not comply with the subpoenas as served, as they were issued improperly and violated the state’s shield law.
“The Wisconsin Legislature has enacted a reporters’ privilege law that absolutely prohibits compelling a news person to testify about confidential sources and conditionally prohibits the issuance of a subpoena compelling a news person to testify about ‘[a]ny news, information, or identity of any source of any news or information,’” the filing reads.
The district attorney’s office argued that it had been unable to identify other witnesses and therefore the journalists’ testimony is vital to the case against the defendants, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
On Sept. 9, 2021, Judge Josann Reynolds ruled in favor of the prosecutors and granted an order compelling the three journalists to comply with the subpoenas and appear to testify starting Oct. 18, according to the Journal Sentinel.
District Attorney Ismael Ozanne told the Tracker via email that his office was pleased with the ruling.
“It is my understanding the court made a very good record of the decision in this case on this matter,” Ozanne wrote. “This is not a situation in which an informant’s identity needs to be kept confidential. I don’t believe telling the truth compromises a person’s reputation.”
Brogan and Pittman told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker the journalists are considering appealing the ruling, but are concerned about the financial burden.