Linda Tracy’s effort to tell the story of a July gathering of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Missoula evolved from a journalism internship project into a legal struggle over reporter’s privilege when local prosecutors subpoenaed her unbroadcast footage in October.
Tracy, a 32-year-old senior at the University of Montana, used about three hours of footage to produce a 20-minute documentary on the event that involved altercations between protesters and police. The documentary has aired on Missoula’s public access television channel and is available at a local video store.
Prosecutors issued a subpoena for the footage in ongoing investigations and pending trials stemming from the two-night affair, during which 63 people were arrested.
Tracy filed a motion to have the subpoena quashed under Montana’s shield law, but prosecutors responded by saying she has no such privilege because she is not a journalist, only a student.
Montana’s shield law, the Media Confidentiality Act, gives absolute privilege of information and sources to “any person connected with or employed by” any agency responsible for “disseminating news.”
Tracy’s attorney, Rick Sherwood, and journalism administrators at the university said her status as a journalism student satisfies the requirements of the law. Additionally, Tracy owns a production company, Turtle Majik Productions, for documentaries and investigative news pieces.