U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Documentary journalist William Erb subpoenaed to testify before grand jury

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 17, 2018

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
REUTERS/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.

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

LAT update

The Los Angeles Times reports 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 17, 2018

William Erb, a journalist and producer working on a documentary series about controversial record producer Marion “Suge” Knight, was subpoenaed on Jan. 17, 2018, to testify before a grand jury, according to a sealed declaration filed in court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

THR reports that Erb and a colleague, Nora Donaghy, 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 Erb and Donaghy interviewed Knight about the Tupac murder for the upcoming BET series.

In a sealed court filing obtained by THR, Erb stated that he received a call from a police investigator last year who told him that he had broken the law by interviewing Knight in prison. Erb also said in the declaration that two detectives visited him at his home on Jan. 17, 2018, and served him a grand jury subpoena.

Attorneys for Erb and Donaghy 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].