Reporters Jailed, Released In Statehouse Trial
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ A federal judge jailed four newspaper reporters for several hours Wednesday after they refused to answer questions in the trial of a state senator charged with selling his vote.
″Incarceration is not a frivolous matter,″ said U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins. ″I want to make sure I’ve given it the proper consideration.″
The reporters had done stories about state Sen. J.M. ″Bud″ Long. Their attorney, Jay Bender, argued Wednesday that testifying would hurt their ability to gather news unfettered by government intervention. He also argued that jailing the reporters would not encourage them to testify.
U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel said the reporters’ testimony is crucial to the government’s case.
Long is the last person to be charged in a federal investigation of corruption in state government that was dubbed ″Operation Lost Trust.″ Charges were filed against 28 legislators, lobbyists and officials. Most have pleaded guilty to bribery or drug charges. Eight have pleaded innocent. One lawmaker was acquitted.
Hawkins cited reporters Cindi Scoppe of The State of Columbia, Schuyler Kropf and Sid Gaulden of The (Charleston) Post and Courier, and Andrew Shain of The Sun News of Myrtle Beach with contempt Wednesday after each pleaded their reporters’ privilege to not testify about stories they have covered.
″Good faith alone does not immune a party from compliance,″ Hawkins said.
He allowed the reporters to be released for the night but they were ordered to report to the court Thursday morning.
Two other reporters subpoenaed in the trial, Lisa Greene of The Sun News of Myrtle Beach and Barry Myers of South Carolina Educational Radio, were not called to the stand. Both of their subpoenas were dismissed. Ms. Green was the only reporter in the group subpoenaed to testify for the defense.
The South Carolina Press Association executive committee issued a statement that said asking the reporters to testify put them in a awkward ethical situation.
″They are being called to testify about their work as journalists. Reporters are not policemen ... surely they cannot find out anything in interviews with Sen. Bud Long that law enforcement officers cannot find out themselves,″ the statement said.
Larry Tarleton, executive editor of The Post and Courier, said he was shocked and dismayed by the orders. ″Reporters should not have to look over their shoulder every time they do a story,″ he said.
Long is accused of taking a $2,000 bribe in return for his support of a pari-mutuel betting bill, which never passed.
Long has contended that he could not have taken a bribe because he already voted for the bill before he was offered or received money.