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Harvard Crimson reporter subpoenaed for reporting materials, testimony in defamation suit

June 21, 2019

A reporter and multimedia editor for The Harvard Crimson, the university’s daily paper, was issued a subpoena on April 10, 2019, to testify in a deposition and provide communications and reporting materials.

Shera Avi-Yonah was one of The Crimson reporters who had written on activities around and including a defamation lawsuit brought by Harvard College staff members Carl and Valencia Miller against Gail O’Keefe, a faculty dean.

The defamation suit stemmed from interactions with a student activist and another faculty dean’s decision to represent Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who is facing multiple allegations of sexual assault. Other journalists involved in the reporting did not receive subpoenas.

The Crimson reported that the subpoena specifically requested all of Avi-Yonah’s communications and documents “concerning” the Millers, as well as communications and documents related to the faculty deans and student activist Danu Mudannayake, who is also on staff at The Crimson.

The subpoena also required Avi-Yonah to testify at a May 14 deposition.

Robert Bertsche, an attorney representing The Crimson, filed a written objection to the subpoena on April 19. The Millers’ attorney, George Leontire, emailed a statement on his clients’ behalf a few days later communicating their intention to bring a motion to compel Avi-Yonah’s testimony.

Leontire also stated that he anticipated issuing “numerous other subpoenas,” and would not hesitate to depose other Crimson staff.

“If I believe other individuals at the Crimson have relevant or probative information relative to Dean Gal O’keefe’s [sic] defamation of the Millers I will seek to subpoena such individuals,” wrote Leontire, according to The Crimson.

Crimson President Kristine Guillaume wrote in an emailed statement to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the paper would resist the subpoena because the reporter is not a party to the suit, citing the First Amendment.

Massachusetts does not have a shield law in place, though courts have recognized reporter’s privilege to protect their sources and reporting material under “common law.”

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

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