Reporter Bill Gertz Ordered to Testify on “Newsworthiness”

07.17.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz has been ordered to appear (pdf) in a California court next week and to testify on the “newsworthiness” of his reporting in 2006 on a case involving alleged Chinese espionage.

Mr. Gertz was subpoenaed by the court on April 30 and ordered to reveal who disclosed restricted grand jury information to him. Mr. Gertz’s attorneys moved to quash the subpoena, arguing among other things that grand jury information had not in fact been revealed and that Mr. Gertz had a First Amendment interest in protecting his sources.

While the motion to quash is still pending, Mr. Gertz is nevertheless required to appear in court on July 24.

“Regardless of whether Mr. Gertz discloses his sources, the Court expects that Mr. Gertz will be prepared to testify regarding the newsworthiness of this case and, more particularly, the reasons why maintaining the confidentiality of his sources is critical to his ability to engage in investigative reporting,” wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney.

“If the Court is to properly evaluate Mr. Gertz’s First Amendment arguments [against disclosure of his sources], Mr. Gertz must particularize them to this case,” Judge Carney instructed in a Minute Order filed July 14.

Justice Department attorneys had sought to delay the proceedings, and had filed a sealed, ex parte declaration with the Court to justify their position. When Judge Carney indicated that he would unseal the declaration, the Justice Department asked him not to do so since it would reveal internal Department deliberations that apparently remain unresolved.

“The [sealed] declaration describes discussions that have occurred within DOJ regarding the position the government should take in response to the court’s subpoena of Mr. Gertz and explains that no decision on that issue has yet been made,” according to a government pleading (pdf) filed yesterday.

In any event, “The subpoena for Mr. Gertz was issued by the Court, not the Government,” Judge Carney wrote. “If the Government is unable to participate,… the hearing will nonetheless go forward.”

The latest developments in the case were first reported by Josh Gerstein in “Advocates Concerned About a Reporter’s Court Appearance,” New York Sun, July 17.