State appeals court quashes riot subpoena

MICHIGAN — The Michigan State University student newspaper and10 other media organizations will not have to turn over unpublished photostaken during a riot on the Michigan State campus, the state court of appealsruled in March.

The court of appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to quash a subpoenaissued by an Ingham County prosecutor who sought photographs the mediaorganizations had taken during riots that erupted after Duke University’smen’s basketball team defeated Michigan State in the 1999 NCAA Final FourTournament.

The court of appeals will not allow “a prosecutor’s office to, in effect,conduct a fishing expedition utilizing the media as its indentured servant,”said Judge William B. Murphy in the decision.

The court said that a state statute governing the use of investigativesubpoenas by prosecuting attorneys exempts reporters involved in the gatheringor preparation of news for broadcast or publication unless the informationhas already been published or the reporter is the subject of the prosecutor’sinquiry.

The court ruled that the media organizations in the case were exemptbecause they did not meet either of the two conditions.

The prosecutor had argued that the statute only exempts reporters whoare working with an informant, but the court refused to interpret the statutethat narrowly.

“To interpret the statute at issue in the manner advocated by the prosecutorwould unquestionably infringe on the autonomy of the press and could havea chilling effect on the constitutional protections afforded the media,”Murphy said.