U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Virginia circuit court quashes subpoena seeking investigative journalist’s voicemail

Incident Details

Date of Incident
February 21, 2020
Richmond, Virginia

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
February 21, 2020

On Feb. 21, 2020, the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, Virginia, quashed a subpoena issued to WRIC-TV investigative reporter Kerri O’Brien that sought a voicemail the journalist had received during the course of reporting.

Neither O’Brien nor WRIC responded to requests for comment as of press time.

The subpoena was sought as part of a lawsuit Marathon Resource Management Group, a facilities management company based in Ashland, had filed in 2019 against one of its subcontractors, Fresh Cuts Lawn Care Inc., alleging that it had made disparaging statements to the news media and on Facebook about Marathon engaging in unfair business practices and not paying the workers it contracted.

O’Brien filed a motion to quash the subpoena, citing reporter’s privilege.

In its finding, the court stated: “Even assuming that this voicemail would be relevant because it goes to the publication element of the Plaintiff’s defamation claim, the Court FINDS that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy their burden as to the other two prongs of the qualified privilege. Specifically, the information sought by the Plaintiff can be obtained by alternative means, namely the testimony of the Defendant. Further … the evidence sought by the subpoena of Ms. O’Brien is not compelling because publication can be established through other mechanisms.”

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