Subpoena for podcast host testimony in murder case quashed

August 10, 2021

A San Luis Obispo County superior judge quashed a subpoena seeking testimony and reporting materials from freelance reporter and podcast host Chris Lambert during hearings around the 1996 disappearance and murder of a California Polytechnic State University student.

Lambert’s 2019 podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” chronicled his independent investigation of the murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart. In the span of 10 episodes, he interviewed new witnesses whom law enforcement officers had cited as “valuable” in their decision to arrest Paul Flores and his father, Ruben Flores, two longtime suspects in the case.

On Aug. 10, 2021, during preliminary hearings in the case, Paul Flores’ defense attorneys served Lambert, who was present in the courtroom covering the hearings as a member of the press, with an order to testify. The order also demanded he turn over confidential interview recordings, emails and notes gathered in the course of producing the podcast. Flores’ attorney argued Lambert had used “the cloak of a journalist” to try to influence the proceedings.

Lambert’s attorney, Diana Palacios, filed a motion to quash the order on Aug. 23, citing First Amendment privileges granted to the press as well as California’s reporters’ shield law, which protects journalists from testifying and disclosing confidential sources or unpublished materials.

On Sept. 8, San Luis Obispo County Superior Judge Craig Van Rooyen, the judge overseeing the case, dismissed the subpoena. He recognized Lambert as a member of the press and agreed that both the First Amendment and the shield law protected him from testifying in the case.

Van Rooyen also recognized that the order, had it been upheld, would have been a breach of confidence.

“It is the chilling effect that the shield law means to avoid,” he said.

Lambert had been covering the preliminary hearings for his blog, “Hallway Blog,” but decided to suspend the posts until the end of the hearings.

Lambert declined a request for comment through his publicist when reached via email.

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

Related Incidents

Judge quashes subpoena for former KRON 4 reporter’s testimony

December 7, 2020
A judge in California on March 8, 2021, quashed a subpoena for testimony from journalist Kate Cagle about a 2015 interview she conducted as a reporter for the San Francisco Bay Area TV news station KRON 4, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post. The San Mateo district attorney’s office had filed the subpoena on Dec. 7, 2020, seeking Cagle’s testimony about an interview she did with a man accused of murder.Cagle, now a reporter for Spectrum News 1 in …

Journalist subpoenaed in the prosecution of a serial killer

November 25, 2020
On Nov. 25, 2020, journalist and author Jillian Lauren Shriner was subpoenaed by Samuel Little for “unpublished communications with her sources.” The subpoena was issued in connection to Little’s prosecution in the killing of a woman in San Bernardino, California. In 2018, Little, who the FBI says is the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history, confessed to some 90 murders committed between 1970 and 2005. Fifty of the confessions made by Little have been verified by law enforcement, according …

Judge quashes subpoena for Fortune magazine reporter’s notes from profile of Theranos ex-CEO

March 26, 2020
A California magistrate judge quashed a subpoena on Oct. 14, 2021, seeking reporting notes, materials and testimony from reporter Roger Parloff as part of a criminal trial. The subpoena, issued March 26, focused on notes and audio recordings in relation to his June 2014 Fortune magazine profile of Elizabeth Holmes, then-CEO of Theranos.Parloff was subpoenaed by Holmes’ defense team during her criminal fraud case for allegedly defrauding patients and investors of Theranos, a start-up technology company that claimed to have …
More related incidents