Herndon, VA asked in Civil Rights for Virginia

Q: Can newspaper reporters be subpoenaed, and forced to testify in civil cases?

Civil rights law

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1 Lawyer Answer
Timothy R Johnson
Timothy R Johnson
  • Civil Rights Lawyer
  • Berryville, VA
  • Licensed in Virginia

A: It depends on the reporter's relevance to the case. Virginia does not have a "shield law" (statute) that would permit journalists to claim a reporter's privilege from testifying as to information obtained from confidential sources; but the Supreme Court of Virginia recognizes the "reporter's privilege" as established in Brown v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 755 (1974). In general, the holding in that case primarily deals with a reporter not being required to testify as to information obtained pertaining to a criminal case unless the defendant's due process needs outweigh the reporter's protections.

In civil cases, it also depends on the facts. If the reporter was involved in the underlying issues in the case, such as potential defamation republication, it's doubtful that the privilege would protect the reporter from at least testifying to how the information affect the reporter's state of mind.

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