Reporter allowed to keep sources secret in Colorado theater shooting

James Holmes and his defense attorney Daniel King (R) sit in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. Credit: Reuters
James Holmes and his defense attorney Daniel King sit in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo., in June. Credit: Reuters

A Fox News reporter will not have to divulge the confidential sources who provided information for her story on the 2012 mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, New York’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.

New York State’s Court of Appeals said that ordering Manhattan-based reporter Jana Winter to testify in a Colorado court, where she would be asked to reveal her sources, would undermine New York’s long history of freedom of the press.

“Safeguarding the anonymity of those who provide information in confidence is perhaps the core principle of New York’s journalistic privilege, as is evident from our colonial tradition, the constitutional text and the legislative history of the shield law,” Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote for the court.

Tuesday’s 6-1 decision reversed a lower court ruling.

The case in question was the July 2012 shooting spree at a suburban Denver cinema in which 12 moviegoers were killed and dozens more injured during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” James Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

As part of their investigation, police took possession of a notebook Holmes had mailed to a psychiatrist shortly before the shootings. The judge handling the case subsequently issued a gag order barring police and attorneys from divulging the contents of the notebook to the public.

The day the order was issued, Fox News published an online story by Winter claiming the notebook was “full of details about how [Holmes] was going to kill people.” The article indicated that two unnamed law enforcement officials had shared the information with Winter.

Holmes’ attorneys moved to sanction the officials responsible for the leak. The 14 officials who had knowledge of the notebook’s contents all denied speaking with Winter, according to the Court of Appeals.

As a result, Holmes sought to compel Winter to testify about her sources. Because she lives and works in New York, the application was made in state court in Manhattan.

Holmes’ attorneys maintained that any issues related to the exposure of confidential sources should be decided under Colorado’s shield law, which allows judges to order reporters to disclose sources if it is deemed “material and necessary.”

New York’s stricter shield law bars its courts from forcing a reporter to reveal confidential sources.

Winter argued that New York’s more expansive law applied, and that being ordered to testify would result in the end of her career as a journalist or, if she refused, her incarceration.

Attorneys involved in the case did not return requests for comment. Fox News did not immediately comment on the ruling.



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