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KUTV Will Fight Contempt Ruling, 'Public Need' Story Order

KUTV Will Fight Contempt Ruling, 'Public Need' Story Order



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A television reporter held in contempt of court for interviewing a potential juror before the high-profile criminal trial of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs will ask a judge to reconsider his ruling, an attorney said Wednesday.

An Aug. 29 order banned news reporters covering the Jeffs trial in St. George from any contact with the jury pool. On Sept. 10, the second day of jury selection, KUTV aired reporter Katie Baker's interview with a woman who was highly critical of Jeffs.

Last week, 5th District Judge James Shumate found Baker in contempt of court and said Baker could purge the offense by producing a story on a "public need." The story does not have to be aired, Shumate said.

"In our view it's wrong to hold anyone in contempt, including news reporters, for failing to comply with a provision in a court order that they had no knowledge of," Baker's attorney Jeff Hunt told The Associated Press, adding that he'll file an appeal next week.

Baker contends she was unaware of the order and made a mistake. At last week's hearing in St. George, she apologized to Shumate and said she was inexperienced in covering trials and had made a mistake.

In his written ruling issued Wednesday, Shumate said the court order would be "meaningless if the 'I forgot to read it all' excuse was accepted."

Shumate also said the time that spent producing and editing the segment for broadcast was "clear evidence of willful and knowing conduct" to violate the court's order. "This conduct was no accident," Shumate wrote.

No one at KUTV immediately returned a call seeking comment Wednesday. Last week, KUTV news director Tanya Vea has said the station was aware of the court's order but that the story still slipped through the cracks.

Baker could be sentenced to jail or fines if she fails to submit a DVD of a story to the court within the next 90 days.

Shumate's ruling raises troubling First Amendment issues, Hunt said. "We are concerned that the court would order a journalist to produce a news story under penalty of contempt," he said. "The government should not be in the business of deciding what news stories reporters should do. Under the First Amendment, those decisions are left to reporters and editors."

That Shumate isn't the requiring the story to air doesn't resolve the First Amendment problems, Hunt said.

Independent of Hunt and KUTV, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Radio-Television News Directors Association have sent letters to Shumate asking him to rescind his ruling, which could have broad implications for the news media.

"Unless vacated by this court, such a precedent would expose all news reporters to contempt of court sanctions for unknowingly failing to comply with the provisions of court decorum orders, which are often lengthy and, in this case, are sometimes amended multiple times," RTNDA attorney Kathleen A. Kirby wrote.

Jeffs, 51, the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old follower and her 19-year-old cousin. Sentencing is set for Nov. 20 in St. George.

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(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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