U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist subpoenaed for testimony in defamation lawsuit

Incident Details

Date of Incident
November 2020
New York, New York

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
November 1, 2020

Journalist Sharon Churcher was subpoenaed for testimony as part a defamation suit related to litigation surrounding accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and his associates.

As a reporter for the Mail on Sunday in 2011, Churcher published the first in a series of articles wherein Virginia Giuffre, under her maiden name Virginia Roberts, was named as one of the Jane Does central to ongoing litigation against Epstein. The Miami Herald reported in 2018, in a timeline of the case, that in January 2015, Giuffre filed “court papers in Florida claiming that she was forced by Epstein to have sex with Prince Andrew and lawyer Alan Dershowitz when she was underage.”

Dershowitz vehemently denied Giuffre’s allegations, writing to the Herald shortly thereafter: “I never met Roberts; I never had sex with her; she simply made up the entire story for money.”

In April 2019, Giuffre filed a defamation suit against Dershowitz. As part of that suit, Dershowitz subpoenaed Churcher, seeking her testimony about communications with Giuffre; Churcher’s attorney, Laura Handman, responded to the subpoena in November 2020. Dershowitz also filed a countersuit against Giuffre in November.

That same month, Handman filed a pre-motion request to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to quash the subpoena against Churcher, writing, “Although the Subpoena does not specify the precise topics on which Dershowitz intends to question Churcher, in discussions with the undersigned, his counsel made clear that they intend to inquire about her 2011 interviews with Giuffre to determine what, if anything, Giuffre said about her interactions with Dershowitz from 2000-2002. They also stated their contention that emails between Churcher and Giuffre show that Churcher was not acting as a journalist in her interactions with Giuffre.”

The request noted that a previous subpoena had been issued to Churcher by Ghislaine Maxwell, accused of abetting Epstein in sex trafficking of minors and a defendant in a 2016 defamation lawsuit filed by Giuffre, and was quashed that year by the same court, citing New York’s shield law and “First Amendment reporter’s privilege.”

Handman confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in April 2021 that the matter remains pending.

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