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Courts and Crime

Beacon Journal fights contempt threat from bar association in lawyer discipline case
The newspaper also asks the Ohio Supreme Court to set clear and narrow rules on when quasi-judicial groups can force reports to testify

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
In The Region:

The Akron Beacon Journal is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to lay out the rules for when a reporter can be forced to testify before a body that meets behind closed doors. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on a fight over the First Amendment.

The Beacon Journal has been drawn into a fight between a Summit County judge and a lawyer. It’s ended up in front of the Ohio Supreme Court couched in questions about a free press. 

It all started when reporter  Phil Trexler wrote an article in which the judge -- Paul Gallagher -- felt the lawyer -- Larry Shenise -- disparaged him. That judge took a complaint against the lawyer to the Akron Bar Association’s disciplinary board, which subpoenaed Trexler.

In an argument filed with the state high court this week, the newspaper’s attorney, Karen Lefton, said the disciplinary board is a quasi-judicial body operating in secret, and Ohio has no rules on when groups like that can subpoena reporters. 

"We can’t be drawn in to these kinds of things unless it is so essential and so important that nothing else would suffice and that to not have the journalist justify would be just an overwhelming gross miscarriage of justice, and even greater than that.”

“If Mr. Trexler can be compelled to testify about that story in those proceedings, any journalist could be compelled to testify about any story in any forum."

So far, the court has not bought that argument.

Last week, it ruled 4-3 that Trexler and the paper have to show why they should not be found in contempt because of Trexler’s refusal to testify. Trexler had offered to sign an affidavit verifying the facts of his story.

Justice Paul Pfeifer dissented, writing that judicial power over the press “should be employed as sparingly as possible.”

Listener Comments:

Wait, "ruled that Trexler and the paper have to show why they should not be found in contempt"....isn't that the same as a suspect needing to prove he is not guilty of a crime? That's not right, is it?

Posted by: lani guthrie (akron ohio) on February 14, 2014 4:02AM
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