U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Oberlin College subpoenas local newspaper editor in defamation suit

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2018
Oberlin, Ohio

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
May 30, 2018

On May 30, 2018, attorneys for Oberlin College in Ohio subpoenaed local newspaper editor Jason Hawk to testify about his confidential sources.

Hawk, the editor of the Oberlin News Tribune, had reported in November 2016 on protests outside of Gibson’s Bakery, a local bakery that Oberlin College administrators and students accused of racial discrimination. In November 2017, the bakery sued Oberlin College in state court for defamation.

As part of the defamation suit, Oberlin’s attorneys subpoenaed Gibson’s Bakery for records of its communications with journalists, including Hawk. When that subpoena was denied, Oberlin’s attorneys subpoenaed Hawk directly, ordering him to testify at a deposition on June 27, 2018. (Oberlin's attorneys also subpoenaed William Jacobson, a legal blogger who had written extensively about the defamation suit.)

During the June 27 deposition, Hawk refused to answer many questions, citing his reporter’s privilege not to divulge information about his sources.

Neither Oberlin’s attorneys nor Hawk’s attorneys were happy with the deposition. Oberlin’s attorneys asked the court to force Hawk to answer more questions about what he witnessed at the protest, while Hawk’s attorneys asked the court to quash the subpoena.

On Aug. 22, the court ruled that Oberlin could not ask Hawk questions about his sources, but Hawk did have to answer questions about what he witnessed during the protest.

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