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When Grand Jury Secrecy and the First Amendment Collide

Jun 27, 2005
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The second "Balco" grand jury has ordered the two reporters who have been following the story, and who published a book based on leaked testimony from the last GJ, to reveal their sources for said testimony.

The reporters are, of course, refusing to comply and have both said they are prepared to sit in jail until the GJ has concluded.

Which is more important... The public's right to know or the judicial systems ability to conduct its business?

It's like this... The athletes who testified at the first GJ against BalCo did so with immunity and the promise that their testimony would be sealed, thereby protecting their reputations (which were all shattered when the testimony was leaked).

The reporters got their information by promising to never reveal how or from whom they got it.

SO...

If a judge can order a reporter to reveal his sources then why would anyone come forward with information to a reporter that could hurt them?

Conversely, why would anyone testify to a GJ if they know their testimony will most likely be leaked?

How do you view this situation?

 

dullard

Elite Member
May 21, 2001
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There are multiple issues here that your post appears to try to blend into one issue.

1) I personally believe that telling a judge/grand jury a source is not "abridging the freedom of the press". The press is still free to publish whatever it wants to publish. Sure, it may be more difficult to get the info that they want, but they are still free to publish. This is a fundamental problem; people assume the 1st amendment covers more than it does. If we as a society feel that the press should have freedom to hide their sources, then lets make a constitutional amendment which provides for that freedom.

2) Leaking a GJ testimony should be eliminated as best we can. People who are harmed by the leak should deserve the rights to sue for tripple damages. The should be able to sue the person who leaked it. And guess what, they can find the name of that person by asking the press that freely printed that leaked information. Then the person who leaked it should go to jail for a long time.

Back to your original question. If the courts don't have the ability to function, then we lose all of our freedoms. Who cares if we have a right to know if the courts can't function to guarantee that right to us? We first need a functioning court system so that we can be guaranteed our right to know.
 
Jun 27, 2005
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Originally posted by: dullard
There are multiple issues here that your post appears to try to blend into one issue.

1) I personally believe that telling a judge/grand jury a source is not "abridging the freedom of the press". The press is still free to publish whatever it wants to publish. Sure, it may be more difficult to get the info that they want, but they are still free to publish. This is a fundamental problem; people assume the 1st amendment covers more than it does. If we as a society feel that the press should have freedom to hide their sources, then lets make a constitutional amendment which provides for that freedom.
Good point.

2) Leaking a GJ testimony should be eliminated as best we can. People who are harmed by the leak should deserve the rights to sue for tripple damages. The should be able to sue the person who leaked it. And guess what, they can find the name of that person by asking the press that freely printed that leaked information. Then the person who leaked it should go to jail for a long time.
Yeah... But in this case the people who were harmed were essentially confessing to their own sins. They were steroid users. How do you collect damages for having your own criminal actions revealed?

Back to your original question. If the courts don't have the ability to function, then we lose all of our freedoms. Who cares if we have a right to know if the courts can't function to guarantee that right to us? We first need a functioning court system so that we can be guaranteed our right to know.
That's pretty much what I was thinking. Stealing and publishing sealed GJ testimony potenitally cripples the process. In this case, the press engaged in a full frontal attack on the judicial system.

 

dullard

Elite Member
May 21, 2001
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Originally posted by: Whoozyerdaddy
Yeah... But in this case the people who were harmed were essentially confessing to their own sins. They were steroid users. How do you collect damages for having your own criminal actions revealed?
I admit I'm ignorant on the specifics of this case. Were the steriod users the ones who leaked the information? If so, why did they leak it? If not, in my ideal world, they should be able to sue those who did leak it.
 
Jun 27, 2005
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Originally posted by: dullard
Originally posted by: Whoozyerdaddy
Yeah... But in this case the people who were harmed were essentially confessing to their own sins. They were steroid users. How do you collect damages for having your own criminal actions revealed?
I admit I'm ignorant on the specifics of this case. Were the steriod users the ones who leaked the information? If so, why did they leak it? If not, in my ideal world, they should be able to sue those who did leak it.
Nobody knows who leaked the testimony. It definitely wasn't the steroid users (Marion Jones, other track and field atheletes, baseball players and some NFL guys). They only agreed to testify under immunity and with the promise of sealed proceedings. They had their careers and millions of dollars at stake. Plus, they had all publicly denied their steroid use.

Oddly enough, Barry Bonds stonewalled the DA and never gave a straight answer to anything which is partly why this GJ was called.

The best guess is that it was someone inside the court system as they apparently used actual transcripts of the hearings when they wrote their book. But if the reporters won't talk we'll probably never know.
 

dullard

Elite Member
May 21, 2001
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Thanks for clarifying. I think an intellectual thread like this may die quickly in P&N. Some do well, but many don't. Here is a bump for the evening/weekend crowd, hopefully someone else will join in.
 

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