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Attorney General Abbott joins “Friend Of Court” brief to support right of reporters to protect sources

9th Circuit Court urged to overturn ruling in case stemming from Bay Area Lab Cooperative investigation

From the Office of Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas

December 14, 2006

Government - Attorney General Greg Abbott pictureNEW YORK–Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Dec. 8 joined a “friend of court” brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to support the right of journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources.

“A free and open press forms the foundation of a free and open democracy,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Our nation functions best when its citizens can see their government operating in the full light of day.”

Texas, along with several other states, joined an amicus brief filed by the New York Attorney General’s office asking the appeals court to recognize a federal common-law reporter's privilege. Such a privilege would protect the identities of journalists’ confidential sources from being revealed to a grand jury. The brief also urges that, in recognizing the privilege, the Court require the disclosure of confidential sources be “in the public’s interest.”

“This protection embodies the... states’ recognition that the free flow of information is vital to the workings of a healthy democracy,” the attorneys general wrote in the brief. “The most important information must often come from sources who need or prefer to remain confidential... without the confidentiality guaranteed by the reporter’s privilege, the sources will remain silent and their information secret.”

The underlying case stems from a lawsuit filed by two reporters with the San Francisco Chronicle who argued that their professional role as journalists protected them from having to reveal the identities of confidential sources to a federal grand jury. The journalists used the sources in connection with their reporting on a federal investigation of the Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO) in San Francisco. The federal investigation exposed BALCO’s purported involvement in a steroid scandal involving professional athletes. The amicus brief filed, which was signed by 23 state attorneys general, relates to an appeal filed by the reporters in the wake of a decision by a judge in the Northern District of California, who held that federal law does not provide a reporter’s privilege.

The amicus brief is styled United States of America v. Mark Fainaru Wada, et al., Cause No. 06-16995, 06-16996.

Attorney General Abbott has championed the free flow of information throughout his administration. He strongly supported bills passed by the 2005 Texas Legislature to require public officials to undergo training in Texas' open government laws and to open the investment of public funds to more scrutiny.

In 2005, he was a recipient of the James Madison Award for his unwavering commitment to open government. Katherine "Missy" Cary, who formerly headed the Open Records Division, received the award in 2003. Hadassah Schloss, the division’s Cost Rules Administrator, was presented with the Open Doors Award in April 2006.

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