U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Subpoena issued for journalist’s Twitter communication

Incident Details

Date of Incident
December 12, 2019

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Third-party: Twitter (tech company)
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the subpoena seeking, among other things, private Twitter messages between nearly two dozen accounts.

— Screenshot
June 18, 2020 - Update

Subpoena to Twitter seeking journalist’s records dropped

The plaintiff in an ongoing defamation suit withdrew his subpoena to Twitter on June 18, 2020, which had sought communications from freelance reporter Charles Davis, according to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

In December 2019, public relations and communications strategist Trevor FitzGibbon subpoenaed the tech company for all messages between the defendant — high-profile attorney Jesselyn Radack — and 22 Twitter accounts, including that of Davis.

Separate motions to quash the subpoena were filed by both Twitter and Radack in spring 2020 before FitzGibbon voluntarily withdrew it in June.

December 12, 2019

As part of an ongoing defamation lawsuit, an attorney representing public relations and communications strategist Trevor FitzGibbon subpoenaed Twitter to compel the social media company to produce information on nearly two dozen accounts, at least one of which belongs to a journalist.

Filed in Virginia on Dec. 12, 2019, the subpoena requested all direct messages, private messages and group messages between the defendant — high-profile attorney Jesselyn Radack — and 22 Twitter accounts, among other things.

The Twitter account of freelance reporter Charles Davis is among those identified in the subpoena. After receiving an email from Twitter notifying him that his account was implicated, Davis tweeted that he was named in retaliation for his reporting on FitzGibbon in 2017. Davis shared a copy of the subpoena with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker and said that he sent a statement to Twitter noting that he objected to the subpoena.

“It is legal harassment,” Davis said. “And while Twitter seems committed to defending its users, it also makes me think it might be time to switch to encrypted messaging apps like Signal for any conversation, sensitive or not.”

Other accounts named in the subpoena include those of numerous satirists, activists and lawyers as well as Andrew Stepanian of Sparrow Media. Stepanian told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he does not identify as a journalist. A blogger who did not respond to the Tracker’s requests for comment was also named.

Twitter filed a memorandum in support of quashing the subpoena on Feb. 4, 2020, stating, “The Subpoena suffers from a litany of substantive defects and must be quashed.”

In reference to the request for direct communications, Twitter argued FitzGibbon’s lawyer Steven Biss both sought irrelevant information or information that should be obtained from Radack, and placed an undue burden on the company.

In its memorandum, Twitter mentions that its counsel met with Biss twice, raising issues with the subpoena and requesting that he withdraw it. According to Twitter, Biss refused. In an email exchange following the second meeting, FitzGibbon’s counsel again refused to withdraw the subpoena, but narrowed the request to Radack’s communications with 17 accounts.

It is unclear whether reporter Davis’ Twitter account is still listed in the revised subpoena. Biss did not return the Tracker’s request for comment.

FitzGibbon’s underlying case against Radack is scheduled to go to trial on July 13, and all evidence must be finalized by June 29, including information gained from discovery subpoenas.

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