Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Federal Judge Awards Daily Costs for Quashing Subpoena of Journalist

Men and a woman reading headlines posted in st...
(Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts Judge Richard G. Stearns last week in Louise Durand v. Massachusetts Department of Health et al. (Case No. 1:12-cv-10630) took the unusual step not only of quashing a defendant's subpoena of a journalist, but also of awarding the newspaper $8,200 in costs spent defending against the subpoena.

In a two-page ruling, Judge Stearns said Dr. Theresa Harpold, a defendant in a medical negligence claim, failed to show The (Brockton) Enterprise reporter Alex Bloom was the only possible source of specific  information allegedly important to her defense to warrant compelling Bloom to testify. To overcome a reporter's qualified privilege to preserve information provided by confidential sources, Judge Stearns wrote, "a party must show that the summons of a journalist to a deposition is not frivolous, that the information sought is critical to the merits of the claim at issue, and that other sources for the information are not available."

Dr. Harpold is one of several defendants in the malpractice suit brought by plaintiff Louise Durand, a nursing supervisor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who alleges Dr. Harpold abused her authority by signing an order that caused Durand to undergo an involuntary psychiatric evaluation that purportedly proved unnecessary. Relying on confidential sources, Bloom wrote an article in January 2013, about the Complaint in The Enterprise. Lawyers for Dr. Harpold sought Bloom's testimony to learn the identity of Bloom's source, whom they suspected was the plaintiff.

Kudos to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ( for keeping "TUOL" apprised of this case in our stomping grounds while our devoted staff was away on vacation last week.

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