Friday, August 05, 2005

Lawyers to Discuss Shield Law

The New York Times

Lawyers to Discuss Shield Law

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (AP) - The American Bar Association has resurrected a plan to endorse federal protection for journalists who refuse to reveal their sources to prosecutors, after the jailing of one reporter and threats against others.

The association, the nation's largest lawyers' group, declined 30 years ago to support a shield law for reporters. It was debating that issue and others at its annual meeting, which runs through Tuesday in Chicago.

The group's policy-making board will begin taking policy votes on Monday. Endorsement of the shield law would allow the organization to lobby Congress, where bills are pending to protect reporters.

"This is a ripe topic," said Landis Best, a media lawyer in New York who worked on the proposal. "Not just lawyers and not just journalists are talking about it."

A New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, has been in jail for a month in Virginia for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of Valerie Wilson, a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

In June, a federal appeals court upheld civil contempt findings against four journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, whose confidential sources pointed to the scientist Wen Ho Lee as an espionage suspect.

Mr. Best says that many states have laws that prevent punishments of reporters who keep sources private, but that a national law is needed to encourage federal government whistle-blowers and others to provide information to the news media.

Not all lawyers support the proposal.

"The national government has certain kinds of compelling interests that conflict with the right of the press to keep their sources confidential, like national defense and security," said John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked in the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003.

"It's hard to see the A.B.A. getting people in Congress to place the right to protect anonymous sources above national security," Professor Yoo said.

The subject had come before the group previously, after the Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that reporters had no constitutional right to withhold information from grand juries.