See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stating their case

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 6:09 PM

After a 90-minute hearing where attorneys debated whether a Detroit journalist can invoke the Fifth Amendment and not testify in a former federal prosecutor's civil suit against the government, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland said he would issue a written opinion.

"It's complicated," said Richard Zuckerman, an attorney for David Ashenfelter, who writes for the Detroit Free Press. "The judge wants to think about it."

Zuckerman and Steve Kohn, a Washington D.C. attorney representing the former prosecutor, Richard Convertino, argued to Cleland much of what they stated in written briefs.

Convertino claims the Justice Department violated the federal Privacy Act when someone leaked Ashenfelter info about an investigation into Convertino's handling of a terrorist trial. Ashenfelter is battling a court order that says he must answer questions under oath from Convertino's lawyers. (See "Fighting Over the Fifth" and "Sword no shield".)

Cleland asked both attorneys questions to clarify their arguments and use of legal precedents. He also asked Elizabeth Sharpiro, deputy director of the federal programs branch of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division, to gauge the likelihood Ashenfelter could be criminally charged related to testimony he might give in a deposition.

Shapiro said it was difficult to assess that "hypothetical" situation but conceded the possibility of prosecution existed.

"There could circumstances. There could be an ongoing conspiracy. There could be aiding and abetting," Shapiro said.

Journalists have been held in contempt for not testifying in criminal cases, she pointed out, but this is a different matter.

"In criminal cases, the department has not shied away when necessary. Here we're in a civil case," Shapiro said.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit