Fox News Reporter Stays Out of Jail (For Now)

20130401__JanaWinter~p1.jpg

FTVLive has been telling you for weeks about the case of the Fox News Reporter that could be sent to jail for not giving up her sources.

Jana Winter a Fox News reporter could face jail time if she refuses to testify about her sources in the Aurora theater shooting case.

Yesterday she won a reprieve.

The Denver Post writes that Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ruled Monday that he won't decide whether to order reporter Jana Winter to testify until he first decides whether the key clue in the case she was to testify about will be allowed as evidence. In doing so, Samour sided with an argument by Winter's lawyers that the testimony issue isn't "ripe" for ruling.

"The Court is not comfortable proceeding on an incomplete record," Samour wrote in his order Monday. "As soon as the record is adequate, the Court will move forward."

Samour was to decide during a hearing Wednesday whether to order Winter to testify, and he said at a hearing last week that she faced up to six months in jail if she refused to speak. The Wednesday hearing will go on, Samour said, but he will not make a final decision on the issue.

That means Winter may still have to make what Samour referred to in the earlier hearing as a "Hobson's choice" between preserving her career or staying out of jail. Winter has said that if she discloses her sources, it would violate her source's trust and ruin her ability to gather news.

It is rare for journalists to face such a dilemma. As Wednesday's hearing loomed, journalism advocates across the country rallied around Winter, saying the showdown cut at the heart of a journalist's independence and First Amendment rights.

"If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance," Angela Greiling Keane, the president of the National Press Club, said in a statement Friday. "That's not a risk worth increasing."

The fight started in July, when Winter, who is based in New York, wrotea story about a notebook that theater shooting suspect James Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist. In the story, Winter cited two unidentified law enforcement sources who told her the notebook contains violent drawings and details of a murderous plot.

Holmes' lawyers were furious, saying the sources violated the case's gag order, and they filed a motion seeking sanctions against the prosecution for the leak. As part of that motion, they put several law enforcement officers on the witness stand, in a fruitless search for the leak. They then subpoenaed Winter even though the law contains protections against reporters having to reveal their sources.

At the same time, Holmes' attorneys argued that the notebook was protected by doctor-patient privilege and should not be evidence in the case. Both sides in the case ultimately agreed the notebook would remain off-limits until Holmes decides whether to raise a mental-health defense.

As long as the notebook is sealed, Samour ruled the issue isn't important enough to the case to overcome the protections Winter has against revealing her sources.

"If the notebook is not privileged and is ruled admissible, it may well prove to be a critical piece of evidence in the case," Samour wrote in his order. "On the other hand, if the Court concludes that the notebook is privileged and inadmissible, it is difficult to discern why the credibility of one or more of the ... witnesses would be of importance."

Read more the Denver Post