[JURIST] Judge Robert Cleland of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] on Thursday ordered journalist David Ashenfelter to attend a second deposition to answer questions regarding unnamed sources he used in connection with a 2004 article on former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino. Cleland declined to hold Ashenfelter in contempt, however, instead requiring the Detroit Free Press [media website] journalist to either divulge his governmental sources or support his Fifth Amendment claim with further facts. Ashenfelter has exerted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to reveal sources within the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] who supplied Ashenfelter with information regarding Convertino's conduct during the 2001 trial of terror suspect Karim Koubriti. Convertino sued the DOJ [JURIST report] in 2004 for leaking information about his conduct during the trial. Cleland wrote:
As discussed, Ashenfelter, as the witness seeking protection under the Fifth amendment, has not yet provided personal testimony or other evidence which sufficiently indicates the nature of any criminal liability he may fear. The court has been presented with an abstract list of possible crimes which, without specific factual backing, provide little more than Ashenfelter's "say so" that a reasonable possibility of criminal prosecution exists. In light of the reasoning expressed herein however, the court will provide Ashenfelter a further opportunity to either provide the requested information or to properly develop the factual record so that this court may weigh his claim under the Fifth Amendment.Judge Cleland additionally imposed a deadline of March 6, 2009 for Ashenfelter's next deposition.
The Ashenfelter dispute is the latest in a series of cases involving journalists who have refused to divulge their sources. In November, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated [JURIST report] a contempt order against former USA Today reporter Toni Locy. Locy had refused to reveal government sources for a series of articles she wrote about the 2001 anthrax attacks [JURIST news archive], and had been held in contempt [JURIST report] in March 2008 by Judge Reggie Walton of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. In October 2005, Judge Thomas Hogan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia lifted the contempt order [JURIST report] against former New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who had refused to reveal sources she used for a report on the 2003 leak [JURIST news archive] of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.