- COURTESY PHOTO BY DAVE MINSKY/SANTA MARIA TIMES
- A QUICK WIN Chris Lambert’s attorney Diana Palacios got the subpoena filed against her client by Paul Flores’ attorney dismissed on grounds of the First Amendment and the shield law.
Chris Lambert, the freelance journalist and Your Own Backyard podcaster who investigated the 25-year disappearance of Kristin Smart, won his case on Sept. 8 to quash the subpoena against him.
The subpoena was served by Paul Flores' defense attorneys, who questioned Lambert for influencing witnesses called to the stand in the preliminary hearing to testify against their client. The move demanded access to Lambert's notes, emails, raw interview recordings, and other documents that would have revealed the names of several anonymous sources. Many of them had accused Flores of sexual harassment.
"We are entitled to find out what's going on," defense attorney Robert Sanger said in court on Sept. 8.
But San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen dismissed the motion, acknowledging that if granted, the subpoena would have been a serious breach of source confidentiality.
"It is the chilling effect that the shield law means to avoid," he said.
The shield law protects reporters from having to reveal their confidential sources. Lambert's attorney fought the subpoena by citing the privileges awarded to journalists by this law and the First Amendment. Van Rooyen said that both these laws apply in Lambert's case.
Lambert independently reported on Smart's disappearance to produce his popular 10-episode podcast. He blogged daily details about Flores' hearing on his podcast's website, but he stopped that reporting on Aug. 10—after he received the subpoena.
"After today's lunch break, Chris Lambert was subpoenaed by the defense. Judge van Rooyen denied defense attorney Sanger's request to have Lambert removed from the courtroom. However, publication of the Hallway Blog will be suspended at Lambert's own discretion until the matter is resolved," read his editor's note.
Prosecutors alleged that Flores killed Smart in 1996 during a rape attempt in his dorm room at Cal Poly. Flores and his father are accused of hiding and later moving her body.
Sanger declared that Lambert put on the "cloak of a journalist" when he interviewed Jennifer Hudson and Margarita Campos before their testimonies. He alleged that Lambert's interviews shaped what they said on the stand. Campos was Smart's roommate at the time of her disappearance, and Hudson said she heard Flores say that Smart was "under my ramp in Huasna."
Sanger said that the subpoena came down to "balancing the right of the press against the right of the defendant to confront and cross examine .... We are exerting balance in our favor."
Van Rooyen said he threw out the subpoena because there wasn't a "valid distinction between what the witness told the reporter and his newsgathering conduct following that."
The subpoena would "unduly restrict media's access to future resources," he said. ΔCorrection: New Times initially spelled the name of Paul Flores' defense attorney Robert Sanger incorrectly. We regret the error.