No More Sources For You! [Updated]

Seeking a scoop, rookie reporter Jennifer Latson from the Houston Chronicle went and tried to interview to a person accused of a serious felony without the person’s lawyer’s permission.

If the accused had said something incriminatory, it would have been front-page news in the Chronicle the next morning: the reporter would have been able to do something (question the accused without his lawyer present) that the prosecutor and the police could not do.

The lawyer wrote to the reporter requesting that she not talk to his client without first asking him.

Her response was “I’d refer you to the United States Constitution, Amendment I. I can attempt to interview your client until I’m blue in the face; he doesn’t have to agree to see me.”

That is certainly true: a reporter can try to interview an accused person until she’s blue in the face (or until the jailers stop letting her in to the jail).

It seems like an excellent way to make sure the criminal defense bar is reluctant to talk to you about anything else, though.

[Update: In my inimitable and thoroughly unjournalistic way, I hadn't tried to talk with Jennifer Latson before writing this piece, so it was rather one-sided, based on the angry criminal-defense lawyer's side of the story. I have, since then, talked with Ms. Latson. Although she sounds young, she is not a rookie reporter. She was not seeking a scoop or to harm the accused, but only to get his side of the story. Which is, naturally, part of her job.]

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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6 Responses to No More Sources For You! [Updated]

  1. AHCL says:

    You gotta give the Chronicle credit for one thing. They are definitely equal opportunists when it comes to pissing people off.

  2. Michael says:

    If only there were some way to alert the criminal defense bar throughout the entire state that some reporter named Jennifer Latson (that’s L-A-T-S-O-N) with the Houston Chronicle thinks the Bill of Rights has only one Amendment … maybe by posting a message on some network of computers so that everyone had access to the information … hmmmm …

  3. “seems like an excellent way to make sure the criminal defense bar is reluctant to talk to you about anything else”

    The sad truth is, when you’re trying to get a story covered, you’ll still hold your nose and talk to her – that’s sort of an empty threat. Would you rather her next story about one of your cases include only DA’s office sources?

    However, there’s no good reason to answer questions just because she asks. It’s amazing to me how stupid people are regarding their own interests when it comes to the media. I hope the lawyer told their client to keep his or her yap shut.

    BTW, I notice you’re currently reading Herodotus. My wife and I had a fabulous vacation in Turkey about a decade ago in which we took a month and traveled the sites identified in “Histories” (along with a New Testament religious sites, including five of the seven “churches of the apocalypse” from Revelations.) All the spots Herodotus writes about, for the most part, are in what’s today western Turkey, many of them substantially excavated. I loved that book.

  4. Michael says:

    Speaking of OT, I was in Turkey last November, Didn’t get in nearly the sight seeing I would have liked, but I did see St. Nicholas’s church. Kewl.

  5. Mark Bennett says:

    Grits, no, it’s not really an empty threat. When I talk to the press (I’ve been known to do so from time to time), it’s rarely about one of my cases.

    A competent defense lawyer very rarely wants to get a story covered. Almost always, it’s better to turn it into a non-story than to try to get the client’s story out there.

    But if a client had a good story that needs to be told in the press, there are plenty of reporters out there who don’t have a reputation for fucking off the Sixth Amendment. They have never tried to question one of my clients without asking me first.

    Why do they ask me? Not because the First Amendment doesn’t allow them to try to talk to whomever they like about whatever they like. I’d like to think it’s because they respect what I’m trying to do, just as I respect what they’re trying to do.

    Or maybe they ask me before talking to my clients because they don’t want to burn their bridges. In case you hadn’t noticed, the old media are scrambling for relevancy in the 21st century.

    Herodotus is my ongoing project. It keeps getting set aside for other stuff. This translation is an excellent read.

  6. Pingback: Monday Morning Jumpstart: Memorial Day edition | a public defender

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