U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Subpoena for ABC News’ reporting materials on a ‘Real Housewives’ cast member quashed

Incident Details

ABC News Shah Subpoena
February 11, 2022

On May 5, 2022, a United States District Court judge quashed a subpoena issued to ABC News seeking footage, documents and journalist communications as part of a criminal lawsuit involving a cast member from the television show "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

According to court documents, ABC News aired a documentary featuring cast member Jennifer Shah and her alleged involvement in a telemarketing fraud scheme. Shah issued a subpoena to ABC News on Feb. 11, 2022, requesting seven categories of documents, including all video footage, documents, interviewer notes and identification of all government agents and members of the prosecution who provided the news outlet with information.

According to court documents, Eileen Murphy, the senior editorial producer of the documentary, said thousands of documents and materials were collected as part of the reporting process. ABC News staffers also interviewed non-confidential and confidential sources but did not interview any prosecutors involved in the case.

Lawyers for ABC News filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Feb. 25, 2022, stating the information requested was protected under journalists' privilege and was "unreasonable or oppressive" under the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 17.

U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein heard oral arguments on April 25. In granting the motion to quash on May 5, Stein wrote that the request did not overcome journalistic privilege and did not meet the requirements set out in United States v. Nixon, that materials must be “relevant, specifically identified, admissible, and not otherwise procurable by due diligence."

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