Revising her own order, judge rules editor doesn’t have to turn over confidential reporting
Berkshire Eagle Editor Larry Parnass, who was subpoenaed for his reporting materials as part of an ongoing clergy abuse lawsuit, will not have to turn over his confidential sources, a judge ruled on Oct. 3, 2022.
After initially ruling to narrow but uphold the subpoena, Superior Court Justice Karen L. Goodwin then heard the news outlet’s arguments that the diocese’s requests for information did not overcome the First Amendment and reporter’s privilege.
According to The Eagle, Goodwin’s revision partially upheld the subpoena; Attorneys for the Springfield Diocese will still be able to view Parnass’ reporting materials, but not confidential sources.
“In light of Parnass’ affidavit stating that he cannot protect the identities of confidential sources simply by redacting their names, the court revises its order to apply only to nonconfidential sources,” Goodwin wrote.
Parnass told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that while it is unusual for a judge to revise a ruling, Goodwin was thoughtful in accepting The Eagle’s argument against revealing confidential sources in court.
Goodwin wrote the diocese can’t demand communications or testimony from Parnass until it exhausts all other avenues for finding the confidential information. However, she will consider requiring Parnass to identify and produce information from confidential sources if they are trial witnesses.
Parnass told the Tracker this case highlights the need for a shield law in Massachusetts, which would protect reporters from being compelled to disclose confidential sources and unpublished information in court.
“These legal orders seek to choke off the free flow of information,” Parnass said. “A lot of local media outlets are working on a margin, so these small newspapers cannot take on these costs — it's expensive.”
After the revised ruling, he said felt like he prevailed in protecting his sources, and they will be protected in trial as well. “We have great lawyers,” Parnass said, “But we could probably pay another reporter salary before this is all over.”
A Massachusetts Superior Court judge said during a Sept. 22, 2022, hearing that she would reexamine her previous decision forcing a Berkshire Eagle editor to turnover his confidential reporting notes as part of a clergy abuse lawsuit.
According to the Eagle, Larry Parnass, managing editor for innovation at the Berkshire Eagle, published more than a dozen news stories since 2019 on sexual abuse allegation cover-ups involving the Springfield Diocese. As part of a lawsuit, the diocese subpoenaed Parnass this March, seeking his testimony and a broad array of reporting materials it said were needed to verify the consistency of claims made to investigators and a review board. Attorneys for the Eagle objected to the order, arguing that turning over the materials would compromise a confidential source.
Parnass and the Eagles’ attorney, Jeffrey Pyle, did not respond to requests for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
In a ruling this summer, Judge Karin L. Goodwin upheld the subpoena but narrowed the scope to materials she believed did not include identifying information of confidential sources.
During the September 2022 hearing, Pyle argued the diocese’s requests for information did not overcome the First Amendment and was not significant enough to violate a reporter’s confidential relationship with a source, the Eagle reported.
“This story would never have been published by The Berkshire Eagle had not Mr. Parnass been able to ensure confidential sources of his promise not to reveal their identities, and in that respect, this case is much like many other cases that have involved award-winning, societally important journalism,” Pyle said during the hearing. “The stakes are very high here.”
Goodwin said she would reexamine her previous ruling allowing the subpoena to move forward in part. She did not say when she would release that decision.