Senior reporter compelled to testify in senator’s assault trial
Dylan Brogan, a senior reporter for the digital outlet Isthmus, was compelled to testify during the trial of an alleged assault of a Wisconsin state senator on Oct. 18, 2021, in Madison after a judge denied an appeal to quash a subpoena.
In August 2021, the Dane County district attorney subpoenaed Brogan, WORT reporter Chali Pittman and WKOW-TV reporter Lance Veeser for eyewitness testimony around the 2020 assault of Sen. Tim Carpenter at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Pittman told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2022 that Isthmus attorney Andrew Erlandson filed an emergency appeal during a pre-trial hearing on Oct. 15 on behalf of herself and Brogan.
The Dane County circuit judge ultimately denied the motion. Erlandson told the Tracker the decision was "not a great moment for press freedom."
Veeser filed a separate appeal, which the judge granted, quashing the subpoena. The Tracker documented that subpoena here.
Brogan told the Tracker the outcome was troubling, saying the precedent it set could make reporting future breaking news events difficult for reporters.
“I believe Wisconsin’s shield law for journalists should have protected me from having to testify; the judge disagreed,” Brogan said. “I don’t believe Wisconsin journalists can rely on the state shield law to protect them when they actually need it.”
Dylan Brogan, the senior reporter at the digital outlet Isthmus, was one of three journalists subpoenaed on Aug. 5, 2021, to testify at the upcoming trial of two women charged with assault in Madison, Wisconsin.
Brogan told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker the subpoena is connected to the assault of state Sen. Tim Carpenter at a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020. On June 23, protesters were hostile to anyone who was filming or photographing and members of the crowd directed their ire at Carpenter when he stopped to take a photo of the demonstration, Brogan wrote in an article at the time. A group of approximately 10 individuals then beat the senator as he attempted to identify himself.
According to a court filing in opposition to the subpoenas, the Dane County district attorney’s office issued subpoenas to Brogan, WORT 89.9 reporter Chali Pittman and WKOW-TV reporter Lance Veeser via mail to compel their eyewitness testimony. An attorney representing the journalists notified Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey they would not comply with the subpoenas as served, as they were issued improperly and violated the state’s shield law.
“The Wisconsin Legislature has enacted a reporters’ privilege law that absolutely prohibits compelling a news person to testify about confidential sources and conditionally prohibits the issuance of a subpoena compelling a news person to testify about ‘[a]ny news, information, or identity of any source of any news or information,’” the filing reads.
The district attorney’s office argued that it had been unable to identify other witnesses and therefore the journalists’ testimony is vital to the case against the defendants, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
On Sept. 9, 2021, Judge Josann Reynolds ruled in favor of the prosecutors and granted an order compelling the three journalists to comply with the subpoenas and appear to testify starting Oct. 18, according to the Journal Sentinel.
“The public already knows everything that I know. Putting a journalist on the stand to provide some sort of narrative to supposedly aid in a criminal prosecution compromises all the ethics of being a journalist,” Brogan said.
District Attorney Ismael Ozanne told the Tracker via email that his office was pleased with the ruling.
“It is my understanding the court made a very good record of the decision in this case on this matter,” Ozanne wrote. “This is not a situation in which an informant’s identity needs to be kept confidential. I don’t believe telling the truth compromises a person’s reputation.”
The reporters are considering appealing the ruling, Brogan told the Tracker, but the financial burden is daunting.
“We’re a small little reboot of a paper,” Brogan said of Isthmus. “The appeal process: we’re trying to figure it out, but it’s very expensive. On principle we want to fight this but I’m not sure we can afford it.”
Brogan told the Tracker that if they are unable to move forward with an appeal or the appeal fails, he will likely comply with the subpoena.