Monday, January 31, 2011

Texas Judge Quashes Subpoena--Reporter Won't Testify in Murder Trial

The Denton County, Texas courthouse located at...Image via WikipediaDenton (Texas) Record-Chronicle Reporter Donna Fielder will not have to testify in the trial of Charles Stobaugh, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife Kathy Stobaugh, after 362nd Judicial District Judge Bruce McFarling ruled she was shielded by the 2009 Texas Free Flow of Information Act ("TFFIA") [H.B. 670], the Texas daily reports.

Judge McFarling quashed the subpoena by defense counsel to compel Fielder's testimony, ruling it was overbroad and noncompliant with statutory requirements, such as the required signature of District Attorney Paul Johnson. Defense counsel argued that Stobaugh's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial trumped any claim of reporter's privilege, further asserting that Fielder had access to information that could refute investigators' testimony against their client.

Kathy Stobaugh disappeared Dec. 29, 2004, after leaving behind her two teen-aged children in their rental home to discuss divorce terms with the defendant at the family farm. Her body has never been recovered.

Under TFFIA, a journalist has absolute privilege against having to reveal confidential sources in a criminal case unless the reporter witnesses a felony, receives a confession or probable cause exists that a source committed a felony. Before a reporter may be compelled to testify or produce information, the party issuing the subpoena must demonstrate that the material or testimony is relevant and material to the case, essential to the claim of the person requesting it, and that all reasonable efforts to obtain the information elsewhere have been exhausted.

Judge McFarling also rejected defense counsel's efforts to bar Fielder from covering the trial under the "sworn witness" rule.

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