U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Documentary journalist Nora Donaghy subpoenaed to testify before grand jury

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 18, 2018

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
EUTERS/Kevork Djansezian/Pool

Rap mogul Suge Knight appears in court for a arraignment hearing in his murder trial in Los Angeles, California, on April 30, 2015.

— EUTERS/Kevork Djansezian/Pool
February 6, 2018 - Update

LAT update

Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department returned Donaghy's phone to her without searching it on Feb. 6, 2018, Sheriff's Commander Steven Katz told the Los Angeles Times.

The Times also confirmed that a closed hearing was held in January to consider the motion to quash Donaghy and Erb's grand jury subpoenas. A Times reporter tried to cover the hearing but was ordered to leave the courtroom by a court bailiff.

January 18, 2018

Nora Donaghy, a journalist and producer working on a documentary series about controversial record producer Marion “Suge” Knight, had her phone seized and searched by two police officers on Jan. 18, 2018, according to a sealed declaration filed in court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. She has also been subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury about her interview with Knight.

That morning, two police officers visited Donaghy at her home in Los Angeles and presented her with a search warrant, according to a declaration that she filed with the court. The declaration was filed under seal but obtained by THR.

"One of the officers told me that I was required by the warrant to hand over my cellphone,” Donaghy wrote in the declaration. “They also asked me for my passcode and asked me to type the passcode into the phone in their presence to make sure it worked. Believing I had no alternative and frightened by the unexpected arrival of two homicide officers at my home, early in the morning, I gave them my iPhone and the passcode and showed them it worked.”

In the declaration, Donaghy stated that her phone contained "highly sensitive" information, including unpublished work and communications about sources.

THR reports that Donaghy and a colleague, William Erb, are documentary filmmakers working on a six-part series about Death Row Records, the rap label that Knight co-founded. The two interviewed Knight in prison for the documentary series, which is being produced by eOne and will air later this year on the BET network.

In 2015, Knight was arrested and charged with murder after a fatal hit-and-run collision on a movie set that killed his friend Terry Carter. Knight has also been suspected of involvement in the unsolved 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur, who was signed to his label, and the 1997 murder of rapper Biggie Smalls. THR reports that Donaghy and Erb interviewed Knight about the Tupac murder for the upcoming BET series.

According to THR, Donaghy and Erb have been subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury about the interview with Knight, and attorneys representing the filmmakers have filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that California’s shield law prevents the state from forcing journalists to testify about their work.

“This is the kind of gross overreaching that California's shield law and related provisions have been designed to prevent,” the motion to quash the subpoena states, according to THR.

On Jan. 26, THR reporter Eriq Gardner reported on Twitter that the judge overseeing the case ruled on the motion to quash, but the judge's ruling was not made public.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].