Kan. journalist ordered to testify about jailhouse interview

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported on Dec. 17 that Claire
O’Brien had been subpoenaed to testify on Jan. 4. She had been subpoenaed late
on Dec. 14 to appear the next day to testify, but O'Brien and
attorneys fighting the subpoena were not notified in time to clear their
schedules to attend the inquisition.

DODGE CITY, Kan. — A Dodge City reporter has been ordered to testify about
information she gathered for a story on a shooting that left one man dead and
another wounded.

State District Judge Daniel Love ruled yesterday that Dodge City Daily
reporter Claire O'Brien must testify at an inquisition about a story
she wrote about murder suspect Samuel Bonilla.

The newspaper reported that the closed hearing, which is normally used as an
investigative tool, “is rarely used in Ford County.”

But in a Dec. 14 call to the First Amendment Center Online, O'Brien said such
inquisitions were actually rarely used in Kansas, and almost never in Ford
County. She described the proceeding as the legal equivalent of a grand jury,
and said holding the proceeding was “like using a machine gun to get rid of a

Ford County Attorney Terry Malone issued a subpoena to the Globe and
O'Brien, seeking details about an Oct. 7 interview with Bonilla. An Oct. 13
story in the Globe based mostly on that interview included a few
statements attributed to anonymous sources.

Bonilla is charged in the Labor Day weekend shooting of two Dodge City
residents, which left one man dead and another wounded. In the interview,
Bonilla told O'Brien he acted in self-defense.

In Love's ruling, he said state and federal courts had established that
courts must balance the government's need for information against the reporter's
interest in protecting sources.

“In this case, when applying the balancing test, it is clear to the court
that the need for this information outweighs the news reporter's privilege of
confidentiality,” Love wrote.

Malone said he was pleased with the ruling.

“He was absolutely right,” Malone said. “This is a criminal investigation
into a murder case, and the Globe reporter has relevant information
regarding that.”

Publisher Darrel Adams said he would consult with the newspaper's attorneys
before deciding whether to appeal. O'Brien said Dec. 14 that an appeal was under
way and that no date had been set for a hearing.

“We are disappointed with the ruling. Our position remains unchanged by this.
Reporters have an obligation to inform the public on issues of community
importance and should be allowed to do so unfettered by government
interference,” Adams said.

Daily Globe attorney Mike Giardine refused to comment.

Bonilla is charged with shooting Steven Holt and Tanner Brunson on Labor Day
in the Arkansas River bed. Holt died but Brunson survived. Bonilla has been
charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. He is
being held in the Ford County Detention Center. Jail officials said they did not
know today whether Bonilla had an attorney.

In his subpoena, Malone said he needed O'Brien's notes from her interview
with Bonilla concerning his version of events leading up to the shooting. He
also wanted O'Brien to identify a confidential source who provided information
for the Oct. 13 article.

The Daily Globe sought to quash the subpoena, saying that forcing
O'Brien to testify would violate her First Amendment rights and compromise her
ability to gather news. The newspaper also argued Malone could obtain the
information he sought from other sources.

O'Brien told the First Amendment Center Online that Bonilla “told me the same
thing he told investigators.”

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