The Watertown Tab & Press will be in Waltham District Court today to argue that a subpoena brought against one of its reporters should be dropped. The subpoena was filed by town council member Marilyn Devaney, who faces charges that she threw a box containing a curling iron at a clerk in a Waltham store in April 2007.
Devaney wants Tab reporter Jillian Fennimore to testify about her knowledge of the case. But Fennimore, through Tab lawyer (and Friend of Media Nation) Rob Bertsche, counters (PDF) that Fennimore has no direct knowledge of what happened, covering the story only through “the traditional tools of journalism: official police reports, interviews with witnesses, and other shoe-leather reporting.”
Forcing Fennimore to testify, Bertsche adds, would have “the effect of preventing her [Fennimore] — the reporter with the most extensive knowledge of these proceedings — from reporting to the public about this criminal trial.” Such a result, Bertsche says, would interfere with the Tab’s newsgathering activities as protected by the First Amendment.
But Devaney’s lawyer, Janice Bassil, counters (PDF) that Devaney is entitled to know who supplied Fennimore with a Waltham police report labeled “Not for Public Release,” saying, “The information sought by the defendant goes to the heart of her claim for vindictive prosecution.”
That report, appended to Bassil’s brief, is highly entertaining. What allegedly set Devaney off was the clerk’s insistence that she couldn’t write a check without the proper ID. By far the best part is this quote from Devaney, which she allegedly spoke to the clerk shortly before hurling the bag at her: “Do you know who I am? I work for the Governor! I’m a lawyer! I’m in the Senate!”
Now, there are a few problems here. Assuming that Devaney knows what positions she holds, there is a good chance that she has been misquoted. She does not work for the governor, but she is a member of the Governor’s Council. She is not in the Senate, but, rather, serves on the Watertown Town Council. I could not immediately determine whether she’s a lawyer.
Devaney is something of a local legend — a contentious presence on the town council who has battled with her colleagues (there’s a whole section of Devaney clips on YouTube). As a Governor’s Council member, well, let’s just say she fits right in.
All kidding aside, it’s appalling that the Tab — part of the GateHouse Media chain — has been forced to spend one dime and devote more than one minute to fighting Devaney’s subpoena. Bassil, in her brief, makes a ludicrously offensive assertion:
The free flow of information will not be damaged as Ms. Fennimore will continue to be able to report on numerous matters similar to this so long as the information sought was authorized to be placed in the public domain.
This is a Soviet-style definition of journalism: Fennimore will continue to be able to do what is authorized, so where is the harm? I hope the judge can see through that and throws out Devaney’s subpoena with alacrity that it deserves.
Photo found on TheBeautyBrains.com.