Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Court seals identity of student journalist

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Tomar Mason will hear additional arguments June 24 in a SF State journalism student's attempt to invoke the shield law to stop police from questioning him regarding an April 17 murder in the city's Bayview neighborhood.

The 22-year-old student arrived shortly after the murder of Norris Bennett, 21, and took pictures. The student now fears retaliation.

On Friday, Mason sealed the student's identity and other information at the request of his lawyers, the Chron reports. An attorney for the city did not object.

Police raided the student's apartment and took his photos. The homicide remains unsolved, and police claim they wanted the student's photos to see if they could find the killer.

The Chron reported that at Friday's hearing, a lawyer for the district attorney's office, Laura Zunino, argued that simply hoping to sell a project did not qualify someone for coverage under the shield law.

"He was working on a school project," she said.

Extending the shield law to him, she said, would "in essence, eviscerate the rule."

Zunino added that the student lacked an established freelance relationship with a media outlet that courts have recognized as a condition for protection under the shield law.

One of the student's attorneys, Michael Ng, argued that courts have ruled that freelancers are protected under the shield law.

"I don't think we'd be here if the police executed a search warrant on the San Francisco Chronicle or on a CNN van," said Ng.

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