Reporter subpoenaed for witness testimony in Idaho case

May 10, 2021

Idaho reporter Nate Eaton was subpoenaed on May 10, 2021, to give witness testimony as part of a conspiracy case relating to the deaths of two children that he’s covered extensively.

The news director at the local website EastIdahoNews.com, Eaton has been covering the case of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, who are on trial for altering evidence in relation to the killings of Vallow's two children whose remains were found on Daybell's property, according to the site’s news reports.

Eaton posted on Twitter an image of a subpoena that requests his testimony in court on June 9. According to the document on the website of the Idaho judiciary, the subpoena was filed with the county’s deputy clerk by John Prior, an attorney representing the defendants in the case.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, emailed Prior for comment, but did not receive any response.

The Clerk of District Court who signed the subpoena, Eileen Parker, referred CPJ to Tammie Whyte, the trial court administrator for the Seventh District, who told CPJ that the process for issuing the subpoena was set forth in Idaho’s criminal rule 17. “I can’t speak for the presiding judge as to whether they’re going to enforce the subpoena or not,” she said in a phone interview.

EastIdahoNews.com Managing Editor Nate Sunderland confirmed to CPJ that Eaton was served the subpoena the day after it was filed, on May 11.

“Nate’s been covering this [case] for a year and a half now, and if he was called to the stand, it would really ruin his opportunity to continue covering it,” Sunderland told CPJ. “That’s our biggest concern—our ability to objectively cover this if we’re suddenly part of the story.”

The Tracker documented 31 subpoenas filed to journalists and news organizations in 2020.

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

May 29, 2021 Update

A subpoena to compel EastIdahoNews.com news director Nate Eaton to provide witness testimony in a case he’s covered extensively was dropped on May 29, 2021.

Eaton has reported on a conspiracy case involving Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell and the death of Vallow’s two children. The subpoena, filed earlier in the month, sought testimony about the news site, including its community reach, audience size and pageviews, the outlet reported.

Attorney Jeffrey Hunt, representing EastIdahoNews.com, negotiated with Daybell’s attorney to have the subpoena dropped.

“We are pleased that the subpoena has been withdrawn,” Hunt said in a statement to the news site. “The First Amendment protects the independence of news reporters so they are free to report on judicial proceedings without becoming witnesses in them. The withdrawal of the subpoena is a welcome recognition of that independence and the vital role of the news media in providing information to the public about this case.”

Eaton told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was humbled and impressed with the support he received from other journalists and his community.

“For any reporter out there who might be scared to take on a story because of the threat of legal action or subpoenas, I would say, ‘Know that there is support out there,’” Eaton said. “Just know that there are resources and help available and don’t be afraid to challenge it.”

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