|Reporter Ordered to Testify in Major Whistleblower Case|
Washington, D.C. September 2, 2008. On Thursday U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland issued an order in the case of former U.S. Assistant District Attorney Richard Convertino, granting Mr. Convertino's motion to compel the deposition of Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter. The judge's ruling allows Mr. Convertino access to critical information in his Privacy Act claim against the Department of Justice.
"Virtually every case in which a court compels a reporter to disclose a confidential source implicates at least some risk, direct or otherwise, that news gathering activities protected by the First Amendment may be hindered...However, this generalized danger is minimized in this case, as the anonymous DOJ officials may well have violated federal law by communicating with Ashenfelter as to these matters. If the informants indeed violated the Privacy Act as Convertino alleges, potential sources of further similar violations should be deterred from interactions of this kind with representatives of the press. This is not an instance where the reporter's informant reveals hitherto unknown dangerous or illegal activities that, being unlikely otherwise to come to light, result in reporting that is obviously more weighty in a court's calculation of First Amendment safeguards."
Lindsey M. Williams, Advocacy Director of the National Whistleblower Center, called the decision "a momentous step towards vindication for an irrational attempt by the DOJ to destroy one of its highly decorated prosecutors, DOJ officials must be held accountable for their crude attempt to cover up official misconduct. This is an important decision as it protects whistleblowers while preserving First Amendment rights."