County Questions Rule On Reporter Contempt
Tuesday, August 3rd, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 3 — The Board of Supervisors today decided to ask state Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger for an independent opinion on whether a news reporter should be forced to reveal his sources of information after leaving his job.
The motion passed without dissent after supervisors Kenneth Hahn and Ernest Debs questioned a ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Older that held former Herald-Examiner reporter William Farr in contempt for refusing to reveal the source of a story about Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Originally, Hahn had sought the opinion from County Counsel John Maharg. But Maharg said he was “incapacitated” because as an advocate of both the Board of Supervisors and the Superior Courts, “I have to uphold the court’s position.”
Maharg said the answer to the question would be settled by the courts, and added. “I’d be happy to give an independent opinion after that ruling is made.”
Hahn, who introduced the motion, replied: “I think it is vital that, we get an answer, and not just trust the court’s decision. I think it’s the public business. The courts should not be considered sacred. They should be equal to, but not superior to, other levels of government.”
The supervisor said he wanted to know in the opinion whether a reporter may no longer protect his sources after he “retires, changes jobs to a different profession, if he is on sick leave or if his newspaper ceases publication.”
“The right to a free press is guaranteed in the First Amendment,” he said. “No reporter should have his objectivity endangered because of the fear of reprisal by having to divulge trusted information.”
Farr is now news secretary to Dist. Atty. Joseph P. Busch.
Older had ordered Farr held in jail until he revealed the source of a story that the Manson clan was planning to kill various Hollywood personalities, but stayed the sentence pending appeal.
Section 1070 of the California Evidence Code says a newspaper reporter cannot be held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge the identity of a news source.