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News ::
04 Jan 2002
Modified: 06 Jan 2002
Freelance journalists have no protection under the First Amendment. Please be careful about using your real identity.
Jan. 4, 2002, 6:58AM

Jailed writer to be freed

Held 5 months for refusal to turn over her research

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Jailed writer Vanessa Leggett will be released this morning after spending more than five months in a federal detention center for refusing to turn over her research about a 1997 slaying in River Oaks.

Leggett, 33, has been detained since July 20 after she refused to release information from confidential sources to a grand jury investigating Robert Angleton, a Houston bookie whose wife, Doris, was slain in 1997.

Doris Angleton was shot a dozen times in the head and chest April 16, 1997, by an intruder in her home. Leggett intends to write a book about the slaying.

Robert Angleton was acquitted in 1998 of a capital murder charge. Prosecutors alleged that he hired his brother, Roger, to kill his wife so that he would not have to pay her in a divorce settlement.

Mike DeGeurin, Leggett's lawyer, was able to spring his client when a motion he filed for her immediate release was granted late Thursday by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon.

The order, which was sealed, requires Leggett to be released by 10 a.m. today.

In his motion, DeGeurin argued that his client could not legally be detained after today when the grand jury was set to conclude its investigation.

DeGeurin said the prosecutors' reponse to his motion stated that the government will continue their efforts to force her to comply.

The contempt of court ruling was based upon Leggett's refusal to comply with a grand jury subpoena requesting that she turn over notes and recordings detailing her years of research about the Angleton slaying. However, once the grand jury's term expires, the subpoena can no longer be enforced.

Leggett still may face further legal action.

DeGeurin said the government has indicated that another grand jury may be convened to investigate the Angleton matter. If so, Leggett may face the same legal battle.

"I'm happy for Vanessa that she's being released, but I'm saddened by the government's position that they will attempt to incarcerate her again," DeGeurin said.

Terry Clark, an assistant U.S. attorney who is leading the investigation, said Leggett's release was granted as a matter of law because of the grand jury's expiration.

Clark would not say whether an indictment had been returned against Angleton or whether he would call for another grand jury investigation.

The grand jury began looking into possible violation of federal laws after Angleton was acquitted of capital murder in his wife's slaying.

U.S. Attorney Mike Shelby could not be reached for comment but he has previously declined to reveal what action, if any, his office will take next in the matter.

While she was detained, Leggett received support from journalism groups, political leaders and others.

They praised Leggett's release, but remained worried she could be jailed again for contempt and that the Bush administration and federal courts in Texas were eager to curtail First Amendment rights.

The Justice Department appears to define journalism very narrowly, contending free-lance journalists have no protection under the First Amendment, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The committee and the Society of Professional Journalists filed legal documents supporting Leggett soon after she was jailed.

Despite Leggett's release, several issues remained, including the status of reporters' privilege in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' jurisdiction and the fate of journalists in Texas when they apply their craft, Dalglish said.

"Essentially what this case tells us is that free-lance journalists are screwed," she said.

"Perhaps it is time to come up with a federal shield law, a law that (states) a reporter's privilege to keep sources confidential," Dalglish added.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said she hopes to begin work on legislation that better defines journalists. Writers who have been published -- either in mainstream media or independent publications and are gathering material with the intent to publish -- should be protected by the First Amendment, said Jackson Lee, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

In November, Jackson Lee asked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to release Leggett.

"We need federal legislation to set standards of how journalists should be viewed," she said.

William Harrell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said Leggett's case exemplified the need to balance the rights of a free press and a grand jury's power of investigation.

"I think in many ways Mrs. Leggett is a heroine to all those who respect the notion of a free press," Harrell said. "She had to stand up, at tremendous personal loss, for all of those who wish to keep the public informed."

Leggett's case may backfire on prosecutors who attempt to "bully" other journalists into testifying, said David Dow, a First Amendment expert and law professor at the University of Houston Law School.

Rather than making writers fearful of jail time, prosecutors may find journalists now more willing to follow Leggett's example, Dow said.

"All it takes is one reporter to stick it out in a jail cell to inspire other reporters to do it," he said.

Leggett's legal troubles began when she refused to hand over documents and recordings related to her years of research of Doris Angleton's slaying.

She conducted numerous interviews with Roger Angleton while he awaited trial. He later committed suicide.

Leggett turned over copies of her tapes of recorded interviews with Roger Angleton but she refused to answer questions involving information she obtained from confidential sources. She was then ordered detained for contempt of court.

DeGeurin lost an appeal when the 5th Circuit ruled in August that Harmon did not abuse her discretion in finding Leggett in contempt. The judges also ruled that Leggett was not protected by First Amendment privileges for journalists.

Earlier this week, DeGeurin requested that the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision.

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Bribery of Public Officials
06 Jan 2002
The Bill of Rights is the law of the land regardless of what's practiced by the criminals posing as "our" government.

Judges, presidents, attorney generals and other public servants who take bribes have no rights to remain employed.

US Code, Title 18, Chapter 11, Section 201

Educate Yo'Self!
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