California judge quashes subpoena of college student editor

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge quashed a subpoena asking a student editor to turn over unpublished photos taken during a fight at a football game.

Judge Gerald S. Bakarich ruled April 7 that David Sommers, the editor of The State Hornet, the student newspaper at California State University at Sacramento, would not be held in contempt for refusing to hand over pictures of the arrest of Gustavo Chavez at a football game in September. Sommers was facing a possible jail sentence for not handing over the film.

Sommers’ attorneys argued that the student newspaper is protected under California’s shield law, which allows journalists to refuse to divulge unpublished information obtained while reporting.

Bakarich, who charged Sommers with contempt in December, quashed the subpoena after a review of the film negatives in his chambers. He ruled that the photos provided no new evidence to the defense and did not contain information that Chavez’s defense could not obtain through other means.

Bakarich said he was concerned that the defense did not make an effort to contact the only witness named in the article published by The State Hornet. One of the requirements under the shield law is that the defense must make an attempt to get information from other means before it can subpoena material from the media.

Once again, a student journalist has successfully (and bravely) defeated an attempt by an outside party to require the disclosure of unpublished editorial material. News media organizations have historically fought such efforts. They argue that the press