Student editor vows to continue fighting order to surrender records

Friday, March 3, 2000

A student editor who has refused to turn over records and photographs gathered by his college newspaper has vowed to continue fighting a contempt-of-court ruling after a California appeals panel refused to review his case.

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Department of the Sacramento County Superior Court last month denied the petition of David Sommers, editor in chief of The State Hornet at California State University-Sacramento, to review a contempt ruling against him.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gerald S. Bakarich, who issued the original contempt order, stayed the order last week pending Sommers’ appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal.

“We’re hoping for better results as we go along,” said Jacqueline Kinney, one of Sommers’ lawyers.

Sommers has 30 days to file his appeal.

Bakarich originally found Sommers in contempt last December after he refused to hand over the names of people interviewed and all unpublished photos pertaining to the Sept. 18, 1999, arrest of Gustavo Chavez. Bakarich stayed that order pending Sommers’ appeal to the appellate division. He issued his most recent stay at a Feb. 25 hearing in People v. Gustavo Chavez.

Chavez was charged with resisting arrest and with battery of a police officer for an incident at the Causeway Classic football game. The State Hornet ran a front-page story about Chavez’s arrest, along with a photo of a police officer placing the suspect in a chokehold, in its Oct. 6 issue.

Lisa Franco, Chavez’s lawyer, is seeking from the Hornet “all news-clips, films, videos, photographs, or other documents pertaining to [Chavez's] arrest.”

Franco says the records, particularly the photos, are key to Chavez’s defense because they might prove that the officers used excessive force and that Chavez is not guilty of the charges against him.

Sommers and his lawyers, however, argue that the state shield law protects the Hornet from having to release the information.

“You should not be allowed under the shield law to go to the press and have the press do your investigating for you,” Kinney said.

“The law says you don’t go to the media first. I was subpoenaed before the defense attorney attempted anything else, before they ever contacted or advertised for witnesses,” Sommers told The State Hornet.

Bakarich also recently granted Franco’s subpoenas for video footage from Sacramento television stations that were filming at the football game where Chavez was arrested, including KCRA, the local NBC affiliate. Stephen H. Johanson, an attorney representing KCRA, says the station has provided the edited footage that was broadcast but refuses to supply unpublished footage.

Johanson has filed a motion to quash the subpoena, and a hearing on the issue is set for March 31.