Freelance video journalist and blogger Josh Wolf will spend his 200th day in prison tomorrow after an attempt at judicial mediation failed yesterday. Both federal judge Joseph Spero, who was handling the mediation attempt, and Wolf’s lawyers declined to give the reasons for its failure.
Wolf will remain in prison for refusing to testify to a federal grand jury and allow it to see his unedited video of a 2005 protest in which a police car was slightly damaged. The grand jury investigation into the attack on the car is currently scheduled to continue until July, but it could be extended until January 2008.
If no further mediation attempt is scheduled and Wolf continues to refuse to cooperate with the grand jury, he will remain in jail until the term of its investigation ends or he completes 18 months in prison, which is the maximum penalty for contempt of court in such a case.
“The failure of this unprecedented mediation is one more blow to professional secrecy for journalists in the United States, which has suffered a great deal at the hands of the federal judicial authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “One might have expected that Judge Spero would have agreed to an alternative penalty to prison, which is hard to justify. We hope further mediation will take place soon and that Wolf will be freed.”
07.03.07 - Judicial mediation due to start on the eve of Josh Wolf’s 200th day in prison
Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the fact that judicial mediation will start tomorrow in the case of jailed blogger and freelance video journalist Josh Wolf, and that this could lead to his release. On 10 March, Wolf is due to complete his 200th day in a federal prison in Dublin, California, for refusing to surrender his unedited video to a federal grand jury investigation.
“Such mediation is unprecedented in this kind of press case and ought to be used to redress a flagrant miscarriage of justice, however belatedly,” the press freedom organisation said. “Joseph Spero, the judge named as mediator, should bear in mind that journalists are not meant to be police auxiliaries or informers and their role as news providers gives them the right to protect the confidentiality of their sources and material. Wolf’s detention has been used to put pressure on him and it is time for it to stop.”
The case goes back to 2005, when Wolf filmed a protest in San Francisco against a G8 summit.
After refusing to comply with a federal subpoena to hand over his unedited video and testify to a grand jury investigation into an attack on a police car during the demonstration, he was found in contempt of court and was initially imprisoned from 1 August to 1 September 2006. He was sent back to Dublin prison, near San Francisco, on 20 September after judges rejected an appeal. In all, he will have spent 200 days in prison on 10 March.
William Alsup, the federal judge who imprisoned Wolf, finally ordered judicial mediation on 14 February and assigned the job to Judge Spero.
The right of journalists to professional confidentiality is recognised by 33 states of the union. The house of representatives of the northwestern state of Washington unanimously passed a “shield law” of this nature on 16 February. Other shield laws are being debated by the states of Missouri, Utah, Massachusetts and Texas. Reporters Without Borders wants similar legislation to be adopted by the federal congress.