A journalist who uncovered a shady real-estate deal involving a state senator does not have to testify about an unpublished interview in court.
District court Judge Brett Loveless issued a ruling just before the close of business on Friday that lets Peter St. Cyr mostly off the hook in the criminal case against Phil Griego. Preliminary hearings on the charges of tampering with public records, filing false financial disclosure reports, committing perjury and violating the ethical principles of public service are scheduled to begin on Tuesday in Albuquerque, with a few days blocked out in Santa Fe later in the week.
Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office sought to compel St. Cyr to testify in the case, and St. Cyr’s attorney Colin Hunter filed a motion to get him out of it.
New Mexico’s shield law allows for journalists to refuse to participate in court proceedings about confidential sources and information communicated privately, the order finds.
"Given the role and importance of the news media in disseminating information to the public,” Loveless writes, “this court is not inclined to open the door to allow the state to inquire into the information … which remains unpublished.”
He cited an earlier case that established that such compelled testimony “can constitute a significant intrusion into the newsgathering process.”
Loveless did, however, write that St. Cyr must appear on the stand for purpose of authenticating a recording that’s published on the internet or to authenticate published statements attributed to Griego.
St. Cyr says he’s still not exactly happy about taking the stand at all, but he’s willing to comply with the order.
“Testifying to the accuracy of work product is not a breach of journalistic ethics,” he says.
“We’re celebrating the country's independence with Fourth of July and it’s perfect timing to reaffirm the freedom of the press.”
"Judge Loveless' order is a victory for a free and independent press and thwarted the attorney general's attempt to turn a reporter into an investigative arm of the government," Hunter says. "To have allowed this would have hindered the ability of the press to perform its constitutionally protected functions and had a chilling effect on the press' ability to inform the public free from government interference."
Read St. Cyr’s story in SFR that started it all here.