The street demonstration that was caught on Wolf’s video camera involved self-styled anarchists who, in a July 8, 2005 rampage through downtown San Francisco, destroyed property, resisted arrest, and assaulted and injured at least one San Francisco police officer. The persons responsible most certainly should be prosecuted--in state court by state prosecutors and under state law (including the shield law).
How did this quintessentially state law matter become a big federal case? According to their pleadings in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors assert federal criminal jurisdiction based on damage to a police car, which had been purchased partly with federal assistance. I’m not joking. And the damage to the police car, which is disputed, may have been limited to a broken taillight!
Bad enough that California’s authority is neutered by the feds. Far worse that it is neutered in a case in which a genuine federal interest is nonexistent--indeed, where the putative federal interest is, patently, a pretext for an end-run around California’s shield law.
It’s time that the federal courts wised up and put an end to this. The current appeals of the Wolf and Chronicle cases to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provide an opportunity for the federal judiciary to rein in the Bush Justice Department, reassert the primacy of state law in the area of evidentiary privilege, and highlight the importance of a news media that is--and is seen as--independent of government investigators.
Peter Scheer, a journalist and lawyer, is executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition,
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