C-VILLE Weekly reporter Samantha Baars was subpoenaed on March 12, 2018 to testify in the trial of Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler. The subpoena was quashed on March 20.
Baars told Freedom of the Press Foundation that a deputy served her the subpoena on March 16, while she was at the Charlottesville General District Court to cover a different trial. The subpoena ordered her to appear in court on March 20, the day of Kessler’s perjury trial.
Kessler, who co-organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, was charged with one count of perjury for allegedly lying on a criminal complaint that he had filed with the magistrate at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. In the complaint, Kessler said he was assaulted by Jay Taylor. Video evidence later showed that Taylor did not assault Kessler.
Baars said that James West, her attorney, filed a motion to quash the subpoena just minutes before the clerk’s office closed on March 19. Judge Cheryl Higgins granted the motion following morning on March 20, just before jury selection began for Kessler’s perjury trial.
Baars isn’t sure why she was subpoenaed, but she said that Kessler’s attorney, Mike Hallahan, told her that he intended to use her testimony to impeach Jay Taylor, the man that Kessler accused of assault. Baars interviewed Taylor for an article about Kessler’s assault claims published on Oct. 10, 2017.
“During my motions hearing, when Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins asked him what questions he intended to ask me, he said it depended on Taylor’s testimony,” she said.
Hallahan, Kessler’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Baars said that allowing the subpoena to proceed would have adversely impacted her newsroom.
“We have a two-man news team here at C-VILLE Weekly, and our other reporter (news editor Lisa Provence) had a different trial to cover that day,” she told Freedom of the Press Foundation. “I was assigned to cover Jason Kessler’s perjury trial, so If I had been sequestered in the witness room, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job.”
Once the subpoena was quashed, Baars was able cover Kessler’s perjury trial, which lasted less than a day and resulted in the dismissal of the perjury charge against Kessler.
Baars said that since receiving the subpoena, she has started to question which of her sentences or paragraphs could provoke an attorney to call her to the witness stand.
“That’s not something I should have to worry about when doing my job,” she said. “If reporters are regularly subpoenaed to testify in court, people could begin to perceive us as an investigative arm of the government. When I’m out reporting, I don’t want to be thinking about what I could be called to testify about in court, and I don’t want that to make potential sources more reluctant to talk to reporters.”