Ambiguous results in source protection case


A reporter for the Detroit Free Press will not have to reveal sources, but it’s unclear if the reason is a nod to reporter/source confidentiality of his use of the Fifth Amendment. The case involved Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter, defending against a lawsuit from former US attorney Richard Convertino.

Convertino claimed that sources in the Department of Justice were upset with criticism he leveled at them, and retaliated by leaking confidential information to Ashenfelter. Concertino claimed he needed the identities of the leakers to press his case against DOJ.

Ashenfelter tried to avoid testifying, citing First Amendment rights, only to be told by the judge that they didn’t apply in this case. Ashenfelter then claimed Fifth Amendment rights to avoid incriminating himself, and although Free Press says the judge was initially skeptical of this argument, he eventually found for Ashenfelter. Nobody knows why at this point.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of watchdog the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told Free Press, “A bullet dodged in this case, but there is still an urgent need for a federal shield law.”

RBR/TVBR observation: It seems so obvious that a federal reporters shield will be in place that it’s a little surprising that it hasn’t happened already. On the off-chance it doesn’t come to pass, Ashenfelter has at the very least opened a new avenue for reporters in the same situation to explore.