U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist subpoenaed by DC construction company after libel claims dismissed

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 20, 2023

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the subpoena issued to DCist Managing Editor Natalie Delgadillo on Jan. 20, 2023, by a construction company after she reported on a lawsuit against it. A judge quashed the subpoena and ordered sanctions against the company.

January 20, 2023

Natalie Delgadillo, the managing editor of DCist, was issued a subpoena on Jan. 20, 2023, in connection with a protracted legal dispute involving a Washington, D.C.-based construction company. The subpoena was subsequently quashed and the company sanctioned by the court.

The dispute began after the district’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Precision Contracting Solutions, LLC, owner Derrick Sieber and his father, Stephen Sieber, in July 2019, alleging violations of consumer protection and construction codes. Delgadillo reported on the suit and a press release from the attorney general, and subsequently updated the article with comments from the Siebers and a customer to whom Stephen Sieber had referred her.

According to a court filing from Delgadillo’s attorney, reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Stephen Sieber began leaving “disturbing” voicemail messages for Delgadillo in January 2020. That March, the Siebers filed a defamation lawsuit against her and American University, which owns DCist through its NPR affiliate radio station WAMU. The Siebers attempted to force Delgadillo to testify in court multiple times throughout the defamation proceedings, but the judge consistently denied their requests.

Though the judge dismissed the libel claims against Delgadillo and AU under the district’s Anti-SLAPP Act in June 2020, he reversed the decision on procedural grounds more than a year later in July 2021. The claims were again dismissed in February 2022, and later that year Delgadillo and AU were awarded nearly $116,000 in attorneys fees and costs.

As the attorney general’s lawsuit against the company progressed, Precision Contracting Solutions indicated an interest in subpoenaing Delgadillo and other journalists at DCist multiple times in the fall of 2020, but did not do so until January 2023.

Stephen Sieber issued a subpoena to Delgadillo on Jan. 20, ordering her to appear to testify in May when the trial was scheduled to begin. Charles Tobin, an attorney representing the journalist, filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Feb. 16, arguing that the Siebers had harassed her and her colleagues for nearly three years.

Tobin also requested that the court issue sanctions against the Siebers and grant a protective order to prevent Delgadillo or any of her DCist colleagues from being forced to testify at the trial.

Superior Court Judge Juliet McKenna granted all three requests on March 30, ruling that Stephen Sieber had acted in bad faith and had been repeatedly instructed that any testimony from Delgadillo was protected under reporter’s privilege. On May 2, McKenna awarded Delgadillo more than $20,800 in attorneys fees and costs.

Delgadillo, when contacted by the Tracker, said that she’s still not sure whether the years-long saga has truly ended, but otherwise declined to comment.

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