U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Subpoena for documents from The Center for Investigative Reporting dropped after lawsuit dismissed

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 14, 2020
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
May 14, 2020

The Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit that publishes investigative reporting on the revealnews.org site, was subpoenaed on May 14, 2020, for documents and unpublished information relating to its 2017 article, All Work. No Pay.

The article, a version of which also appeared on the Reveal podcast, noted that courts nationwide increasingly are sending non-violent offenders into drug rehabilitation programs as an alternative to serving time in prison. According to the investigation, some rehab programs essentially serve as work camps for for-profit companies.

Reveal’s investigation focused on one program that it said fit that profile: Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, or CAAIR, a long-term residential drug and alcohol recovery program in Oklahoma that provided workers for Simmons Foods Inc., a for-profit chicken processing company in Oklahoma. Residents of CAAIR worked for Simmons Foods in conditions that amounted to indentured servitude, Reveal alleged in its report.

After the Reveal report was published, former residents of CAAIR, who had entered the program through Oklahoma's drug courts, sued CAAIR and Simmons Foods. The lawsuit, filed by the former residents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in October 2017, alleged that they were provided no rehabilitative treatment at CAAIR but were required to work in excess of 40 hours a week for Simmons. The lawsuit charged that they worked in unpaid, dangerous conditions, under the constant threat of being sent to prison if their work was deemed unsatisfactory.

In May 2020, lawyers for Simmons moved to subpoena The Center for Investigative Reporting, to gain access to documents and unpublished material that were part of the Reveal report. Lawyers for the outlet objected, arguing that the requested materials were privileged information under California and Oklahoma journalist shield laws.

On Oct. 2, 2020, lawyers for Simmons moved to compel compliance with the subpoena. The Center for Investigative Reporting subsequently made a motion to quash the subpoena.The court never ruled on the motion to quash the subpoena because on Dec. 10 it dismissed the workers’ lawsuit against Simmons and CAAIR.

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