By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
On her lawyers’ advice, Fox News reporter Jana Winter turned down an invitation to speak in person at the Colorado Press Association’s annual Capitol Hill luncheon in Denver on Friday.
But that didn’t prevent her from using technology to implore state lawmakers to reconsider now-dead legislation that would have strengthened Colorado’s journalist shield law.
“I’m here via Skype in New York because I can’t set foot in your state without jeopardizing my freedom and risking imprisonment,” said Winter, who faced the possibility of being jailed in Colorado for not revealing confidential sources for a story she wrote on the Aurora movie theater gunman.
The article, about a notebook that James Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist before the July 2012 mass shooting, was based on information told to Winter in confidence by law enforcement sources. Attorneys for Holmes subpoenaed the New York-based reporter to testify in Colorado, saying the unidentified officers had violated a judge’s gag order.
Last December, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that New York’s shield law protects Winter from having to give up her sources. Holmes’ lawyers now plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to compel her to testify.
If not for New York’s shield law, which provides journalists with absolute protection against being forced to reveal confidential sources, Winter said she could be sitting in the Arapahoe County Jail right now. As it is, her life was turned upside down and members of her family were harassed and threatened. She couldn’t do her job, she said, because “sources saw my face on TV and no one wants to be associated with a subpoena. No one talked to me anymore. Everything stopped.”
“Why? Because I reported on a huge story, something of public concern and I got dragged into a side show that basically ruined my life.”
Winter urged state legislators attending the press association lunch to re-introduce a bill like SB 14-034, which died in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 27. The bill, as originally proposed by Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, would have made Colorado’s shield law more like New York’s, giving Colorado journalists the same absolute protection against being compelled to reveal confidential sources and unreported information.
“You can have freedom of the press and due process, and you can conduct law enforcement investigations while respecting the public’s right to be informed,” Winter said. “Lawmakers, this hurts you because you’re not as informed and your constituents are not as informed. It’s bad for everyone.”
“Someone please introduce another bill to strengthen the shield law,” she said. “It’s a problem. Please fix it.”
Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.