Back in September, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the manufacturer of “lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB, also known as “pink slime”), served me with a subpoena in connection with its pending defamation lawsuit in South Dakota state court. Specifically, BPI was seeking all of my confidential communications in 2012 with the defendants in the case, including employees of ABC News and the two former USDA microbiologists who first expressed concern about the meat filler in private emails later made public by the New York Times.
I wasn’t the only writer to be served by BPI; as a July, 2014 Associated Press story made clear (“Five Food Writers Subpoenaed in Pink Slime Lawsuit“), the company cast a wide net in its search for documents. And the AP story doesn’t provide the entire list of the journalists and activists who were actually subpoenaed.
At that time, I declined to turn over my documents on the grounds that I’m protected from doing so by Texas’s “shield law,” a statute giving journalists a qualified privilege against disclosure of their material in cases like this. After asserting this defense in a letter to BPI’s counsel, I heard nothing more.
Earlier this month, however, I was served with a second subpoena seeking my deposition in the case. Once again, I’m asserting the journalist’s privilege afforded to me by my state’s shield law and this time my attorney (better known as “Mr. TLT”) has filed a formal motion in Texas state court seeking to quash the subpoena.
I’m taking this position for the reasons discussed in my prior post, “Standing Up for Citizen Journalism.” Unlike journalists working for established news outlets, solo bloggers and other “citizen journalists” aren’t insulated by their employers’ paid legal counsel and corporate insurance policies. Yet we, too, often devote considerable time and effort to investigate and write about matters of public concern. Our voices and valuable contributions to these discussions will be lost if every time we take on a potentially controversial topic, we have to fear the prospect of subpoenas and legal bills.
When the court rules on my motion, I’ll of course let you know here.
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