See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Secrets inside of secrets: Reporter's affidavit is for judge's eyes only

Posted on Tue, Mar 24, 2009 at 4:59 PM

Embattled Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter has submitted a sealed affidavit arguing why he shouldn't have to provide testimony in a former federal prosecutor's civil suit against the government.

In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland allowed the affidavit to be submitted so that he — and no one else — can read in detail how Ashenfelter might be incriminating himself if forced to divulge the names of confidential sources and the information they provided about a government investigation into the conduct of Richard Convertino, a former federal prosecutor now suing the Justice Department in a whistle-blower suit.

Unless the affidavit convinces Cleland to overrule his earlier orders, Ashenfelter will be compelled to appear at a deposition scheduled for April 20.

Convertino wants Ashenfelter to disclose who leaked what information about a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Convertino's conduct during the prosecution of suspected terrorists. Convertino alleges that the leak was a violation of his rights under the federal Privacy Act. He can't win his case without knowing who talked to Ashenfelter, according to his attorney.

But the journalist maintains that, along with press protections granted by the First Amendment, he also has a Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Among other things, he contends, it is possible he could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act and other federal laws if he testifies.

If Cleland doesn't reverse the course he has set so far and continues to rule that Ashenfelter must provide deposition testimony, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter he will have to decide between violating the promise of confidentiality provided his sources or face the possibility of being fined, jailed, or possibly both.

In the absence of a federal law protecting reporters in situations like this, federal courts in other jurisdictions have nonetheless ruled reporters have some shield protections. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, the next level up from Detroit's district court, has previously ruled otherwise.


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 letters@metrotimes.com.

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

December 2, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

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

© 2020 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation