Judge Dismisses TV Reporter's Contempt Ruling

Judge Dismisses TV Reporter's Contempt Ruling

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A St. George judge on Monday dismissed a contempt ruling against a Salt Lake City television reporter, saying she didn't deliberately defy the court's authority, an attorney said.

Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate also acknowledged that his directive to KUTV reporter Katie Baker to produce a "public interest" story to purge the ruling raised constitutional concerns, attorney Jeff Hunt said.

"There was a recognition by the judge that it is inappropriate to order a news reporter to produce a story and that doing so violates the First Amendment," said Hunt.

The ruling caused a stir in the national journalism community, prompting letters from the Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations asking Shumate to reconsider.

The dismissal is "a recognition that our First Amendment concerns were valid," Hunt said.

A telephone message left for KUTV News Director Tanya Vea was not immediately returned.

Baker was ruled in contempt after the September trial of Warren Jeffs for violating a court ban on interviews with prospective jurors.

As a consequence, Shumate ordered Baker to produce a public interest story or face punishments of jail time and fines.

Baker never intentionally complied with the ruling, but Shumate said Monday that a Nov. 19 story by Baker which he saw as it aired adequately met his benchmark for serving the public interest. The story detailed citizen complaints about a Salt Lake County program proposed to help the homeless, Hunt said.

"The important point here is that Katie did not produce any news story in response to the court's order," Hunt said.

Baker has said her Sept. 10 interview with a woman from the jury pool was a mistake and that she wasn't familiar with the details of the court decorum order.

Shumate also accepted Baker's "mistake" explanation Monday and said she didn't act deliberately, Hunt said.

Jeffs, 52, was convicted in September of two counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage between a 14-year girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Shumate sentenced Jeffs to consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

Jeffs is also facing six felony charges in Arizona and is under a federal indictment in Utah for flight to avoid prosecution.

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

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