Wednesday, June 17, 1998

Reporter didn’t violate
court order

Bishop Estate wanted
a Star-Bulletin reporter to
reveal his sources

By Rod Ohira


A Circuit Court judge has rejected subpoenas filed by Bishop Estate to question the state attorney general and a newspaper reporter about the leaking of confidential information.

Judge Kevin S.C. Chang yesterday ruled there is no evidence a protective order was violated although protected information was in Star-Bulletin reporter Rick Daysog's April 30 story about estate employee Milton Holt entertaining lawmakers at trust expense.

Estate attorneys failed to prove Daysog obtained the information after the protective order was issued or that it came from the attorney general's office, the judge said.

"I think what Judge Chang ruled is that discovery is permissible if good cause is shown," Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones said. "The trustees simply have failed to establish good cause.

"Until the trustees offer some iota of evidence suggesting that the attorney general submitted this information, the state's chief law enforcement officer simply shouldn't be deposed."

Estate attorney William McCorriston said the result of the judge's decision is that the news media is left to steal information and violate protective orders.

"From our perspective, if a protective order is issued, it should be enforced," McCorriston said. "The Star-Bulletin, in my view, committed a criminal act in publishing information it knew was subject to a court order.

"In the view of the day, it's popular paparazzi journalism to do things like that, but it doesn't make it right, doesn't make it ethical and doesn't make it proper."

Attorney Margaret Jenkins Leong, representing the Star-Bulletin, said Chang made it clear he was applying the doctrine of qualified privilege in his ruling.

"It means there has to be a showing of good cause before a subpoena can be issued to a member of the news media to reveal confidential sources," Leong said.

"Confidential sources have played a very important role in public access to important information, and that would not occur if the news media's promises of confidentiality were not honored.

"If the court were to allow a litigant to rush to the reporter to find out a source, then the promises wouldn't mean anything."

Star-Bulletin Managing Editor David Shapiro said Chang resolved the issue thoughtfully and sensibly.

"I was very pleased that he recognized Rick's role as an investigative reporter and that he recognized that the Star-Bulletin in particular and news media in general perform an important function in keeping the public informed," Shapiro said.

Chang yesterday denied the Star-Bulletin's motion to lift the protective order covering the documents turned over by the estate to the state attorney general.

"The attorney general's position is, a deal is a deal," Jones said.

"In order to facilitate access to these records and not be engaged in a long, drawn-out battle whether we are entitled to them or not, we agreed to maintain their confidentiality during the ongoing investigation.

"Once we complete our investigation, there may come a day when these records are put on a public record in either a law-enforcement or civil proceeding."

Jones said some information covered by protective order should be public.

"We do have some concerns that there is information in these records that is of legitimate public interest, particularly in light of the tax exemption given the estate and the educational role it fills in this state," Jones said.

"But the bottom line is, we agreed to the order, and until the judge decides otherwise, we'll adhere to it."

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