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State Asks Court To Force Seven Days Reporters To Hand Over Notes

Prosecutors working to get Sen. Norm McAllister convicted of sex crimes have doubled down on their efforts to force two Seven Days journalists to hand over their notes and materials and be deposed.

The state subpoenaed two Seven Days writers and news editor Matthew Roy last month over articles published by the alt-weekly made it clear that the reporters interviewed McAllister and one of the women who told authorities that he’d sexually assaulted her.

A Seven Days’ lawyer fought the subpoenas, using a legal precedent that can allow subpoenas to be quashed if the information sought is available from other sources. (Disclosure: The author wrote articles for Seven Days in 2013 on a paid freelance basis.)

In a December 31 response to the Seven Days request that the court quash the subpoena, Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler withdrew a subpoena against Seven Days News Editor Matthew Roy because he didn’t report any of the stories in question. Wheeler maintained, however, that journalists Paul Heintz and Mark Davis should be required to hand over notes and recordings from their reporting on sex crimes allegations against Sen. Norm McAllister.

Shortly after McAllister was arrested last May, Heintz authored a story for Seven Days that quotes - but does not name - a woman who worked for McAllister and claimed he sexually assaulted her. In October, Davis wrote a story based on an interview with McAllister at his Highgate farm. Both stories got the attention of prosecutors, who want to know more about what the reporters learned from their sources.

Journalists sometimes refuse to comply with subpoenas asking for information because doing so might force them to jeopardize highly-valued professional trust by revealing information passed to them “off the record,” or the identities of confidential sources.

Prosecutors tend to disagree.

In support of her argument for forcing the journalists to turn over reporting materials, Wheeler cites a Vermont Supreme Court decision that said reporters are not entitled to any First Amendment protection that would allow them “to refuse to disclose … evidence that is relevant and material to a criminal investigation” when the information in question has been properly subpoenaed.

Prosecutors argue that because the reporters may have notes, recordings or memories from their interviews in which the accuser or McAllister “might contain exculpatory as well as inculpatory information.”

Because Heintz and Davis may have recordings and notes in which McAllister or one of his accusers make claims about McAllister’s case, Wheeler argued, they should be required to turn over those materials and give depositions.

Wheeler requested in her December 31 filing that Davis and Heintz be deposed, with the scope of the deposition limited to the interviews in question.

Heintz said Wednesday that Seven Days representatives will not comment on the case because of the pending court proceedings.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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