New York’s top court ruled Tuesday that Fox News reporter Jana Winter will not have to testify in the trial of Aurora, Colo., movie-theatre shooting suspect James Holmes.
The 4-3 decision (which you can see below) from the New York Court of Appeals protects Winter from having to reveal her sources from a bombshell exclusive story that detailed a chilling notebook Holmes mailed to a University of Colorado psychiatrist that was “full of details about how he was going to kill people.” Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and injured dozens in a shooting during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” July 20, 2012.
The ruling, which was based on New York’s state “shield law,” reverses a lower court’s ruling that determined she would have to testify. If the New York Court of Appeals had upheld that decision, Winter would have been compelled to testify in the case. She could have faced jail time if she refused to reveal her source.
“Today’s ruling is a major win for all journalists,” Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said in a statement. “The protection of Jana Winter’s confidential sources was necessary for the survival of journalism and democracy as a whole. We are very grateful that the highest court in New York State agreed with our position.”
Here’s the key part of the majority decision:
Moreover, as a New York reporter, Winter was aware of — and was entitled to rely on — the absolute protection embodied in our Shield Law when she made the promises of confidentiality that she now seeks to honour. Given that this is the case, and in light of the significant disparity between New York and Colorado law, she was entitled to have the Shield Law issue adjudicated in New York before the subpoena was issued, even though it relates to testimony sought in the courts of another state. We therefore conclude that an order from a New York court directing a reporter to appear in another state where, as here, there is a substantial likelihood that she will be compelled to identify sources who have been promised confidentiality would offend our strong public policy — a common law, statutory and constitutional tradition that has played a significant role in this State becoming the media capital of the country if not the world.
After the meeting, Winter tweeted this:
I heart New York!
— Jana Winter (@janawinter) December 10, 2013
Winter’s lead attorney, Dori Ann Hanswirth, told Business Insider leading up to the decision that the case could have a sweeping effect on journalists’ protections in New York, the heavily concentrated center of the media.
Hanswirth said that compelling Winter to testify would set the precedent that New York’s shield law “can really be gutted.”
“Who only reports on things that happen in New York State?” she said.
First Amendment advocates cheered the decision Tuesday.
“This is an important victory for journalists everywhere, and it protects the ability for the public to get the information it needs to self-govern,” said David Cuillier, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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