Wednesday, August 1, 2007

OPINION: Editor responds to photo ruling


It’s a possibility that I will be writing next week’s column from behind bars in County Jail.
Superior Court Judge Brian Hill yesterday ordered me to turn over 140 unpublished photographs depicting the aftermath of a killing to the public defenders office by 4 p.m. on Friday or face contempt charges.
The photos in question show the scene after a March 14 gang melee on State Street where a 15-year-old was stabbed to death and a 14-year-old was charged with his murder.

Thanks to California’s journalist shield law, I probably won’t see the inside of that jail cell, but Hill can try and punish me and the Daily Sound in other ways. One way, for example, is for the court to impose fines on the Daily Sound until the photos are handed over.
Hill also said that he might possibly restrict the Daily Sound’s right to cover the trial.
Can you imagine a judge who thinks he can pick and choose which media outlets can and cannot cover the trial?
Court hearings like these are open to the public, that includes all media. Open courtrooms are a hallmark of our justice system and of the utmost importance to the public. This newspaper, like most around the country, is willing to fight to ensure its ability to cover the news freely is protected.
Media outlets in this country are granted special protections that allow them to cover the news without letting personal feelings get in the way. Hill’s ruling, forcing the Daily Sound to turn over the photos, could have serious impacts on this paper and other media’s ability to cover the news.
Reporters and photographers are supposed to be neutral observers, and it’s a sad day for the First Amendment when the government strips us of the constitutionally-protected responsibility.
How can I, or any other editor, be sure reporters and photographers will be able to gather proper information at a crime scene without fear they might be forced to turn over or testify in court to that gathered material?
Appearing in court can be an intimidating situation, especially when lawyers are bouncing back and forth using their fancy lawyer-speak to confuse you. Who wants to put themselves in that situation? We have these laws because most people understand the importance of free unbiased journalism. Obviously Hill and Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins don’t understand that importance. I told Atkins there was nothing in the photos that could help her case, and it’s obvious to me she feels the same way.
Atkins has no idea what the images contain, yet she has agreed to give the prosecution full rights to view them as well.
Is she so certain that our photos will exonerate her client that she has not considered the possibility they may do the opposite?
Everything thus far is speculative, and you can’t build a solid case on speculation alone.
This is a First Amendment issue. If there was anything in those photos that could implicate or exonerate her client, I would print them in a heartbeat, making them public.
I am willing to go to jail to protect any unpublished information no matter how petty it may seem, however, fines are more likely in this case, and, depending on their size, can do a lot more damage to a paper this size than any amount of jail time.
Atkins also made a point of telling the Juarez family, not once, but twice that she had won this round, like she’s playing some kind of game. The only problem is, a young kid’s life is on the line.
Send Jeramy Gordon an e-mail to

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