Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Candid Camera-like show invokes shield law

Producers of the show “Bait Car,” which puts an unlocked car with the keys in the ignition on the street to snare car thieves, argued in a San Francisco case that California’s reporter shield law allows them to withhold footage from a man who claims he was wrongly entrapped.

Actually, the case was more complicated than that, according to David Horrigan, editorial director of courtweek.com, who wrote about the case in a Washington Examiner column.

The man who claims he was entrapped, Joseph Bullard, also argued selective prosecution.
    Mr. Bullard, a gentleman who enjoys cross-dressing, argued it was no coincidence that the unholy trinity of producers, police, and prosecutors arranged for the Bait Car to be placed outside Diva’s, a well-known, somewhat risqué San Francisco transgendered club. Police countered that they just picked an area known for car theft. 
    To prove Mr. Bullard’s Good Samaritan claim, his legal counsel wanted to see the tapes of the filming from KKI Productions, the producers of the San Francisco episodes of Bait Car. Not unlike Judge John Sirica sending an order to the Nixon White House, Judge Gerardo Sandoval ordered KKI to turn over the tapes. 
    Not so fast, said KKI. Arguing that Bait Car was journalism and that the intrepid Bait Car photographers were, in fact, journalists and so under California’s reporter’s shield law, KKI refused. 
    Judge Sandoval wasn’t buying it. He rejected KKI’s reporter’s shield argument, and demanded the tapes. 
    Funny thing. You may have laughed at Mr. Bullard’s “I was only helping by moving the car” argument, but prosecutors dropped the charges against Mr. Bullard. 
    Bait Car’s producers were working with prosecutors, turning over their tapes to the district attorney’s office, and that cooperation with cops was fatal to their legal argument, according to Judge Sandoval and legal journalism experts. 
    “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t cooperate with one side and not the other,” said Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. “You can make a very strong argument that the cooperation with one side is a waiver of the privilege, Ms. Dalglish added. 
    People v. Bullard does not decide the law on the contentious issue of who gets to be a reporter in the eyes of the law—although it does put Californians on notice that, if you’re in cahoots with the cops, you probably don’t get to be one, at least for reporter’s shield purposes.

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