KGTV journalist subpoenaed to testify about car accident he witnessed
KGTV 10News San Diego photojournalist Paul Anderegg was subpoenaed on February 13, 2018, to testify about a car crash that he witnessed during the course of his reporting. The subpoena was quashed on March 29.
On July 18, 2017, Anderegg arrived at the stalled car of Israel Morales. According to the Voice of San Diego, Morales was pushing his vehicle on the 1-5 freeway where it was then struck by another car. He was later charged with three misdemeanors, including two counts of drunk driving. Prosecutors subpoenaed Anderegg to testify as a witness in the criminal trial on February 15, 2018.
Anderegg fought the subpoena, arguing that California’s shield law protected him from testifying about his reporting. California’s shield law, which is enshrined into the state’s constitution, states:
A publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or employed, shall not be adjudged in contempt by a judicial, legislative, or administrative body, or any other body having the power to issue subpoenas, for refusing to disclose the source of any information procured while so connected or employed for publication in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication, or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public.
Nor shall a radio or television news reporter or other person connected with or employed by a radio or television station, or any person who has been so connected or employed, be so adjudged in contempt for refusing to disclose the source of any information procured while so connected or employed for news or news commentary purposes on radio or television, or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public.
As used in this subdivision, “unpublished information” includes information not disseminated to the public by the person from whom disclosure is sought, whether or not related information has been disseminated and includes, but is not limited to, all notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes or other data of whatever sort not itself disseminated to the public through a medium of communication, whether or not published information based upon or related to such material has been disseminated.
California Constitution, Article I, Section 2(b)
But San Diego County prosecutors argued that the shield law should not apply because Anderegg had not been acting as a journalist at the time of the accident, citing the fact that Anderegg had encouraged Morales to push his car onto the shoulder and then had called 911 after the accident.
“There was nothing that felt like it was a story when he got out of the car,” Deputy District Attorney Joel Madero said during a court hearing on the subpoena.
Matthew Halgren, Anderegg’s attorney, said that Anderegg was acting as a journalist when he stopped by Morales’ stalled car.
“Mr. Anderegg went to the scene of the incident specifically to gather news, and he was engaged in the process of collecting information and making video recordings for use in a television news broadcast the entire time he was there,” he told the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “The fact that he simultaneously made additional communications did not change the fact that his observations were made as part of the uninterrupted newsgathering process.”
“It is hardly possible for reporters to be completely passive observers during a newsworthy incident, and a reporter does not abandon his craft when he speaks to people around him or makes a telephone call,” he added. “Additionally, removing the protection of the shield law from a reporter who assists 9-1-1 dispatchers and first responders would create a perverse disincentive for reporters to provide assistance during emergencies.”
On March 29, at a court hearing in front of retired judge Carl Davis, the prosecutors and Halgren made their cases for and against the subpoena. Davis ruled that the California shield law did apply to Anderegg and the subpoena should be quashed.
“He went there as a journalist and turned on his camera, and it stayed on,” judge Davis said, according to the Voice of San Diego.
This is not the first time that Halgren has helped a journalist fight a subpoena. Earlier this year, he represented Kelly Davis, a freelance reporter who was subpoenaed to testify about her reporting on the high number of deaths in San Diego County jails. The subpoena against Davis was defeated.