Sharon Tate Trial Writer Held in Contempt of Court
Tuesday, July 20th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Jul. 20 — Former Herald-Examiner reporter William Farr yesterday was found in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions on the specific source of an article he wrote during the Tate-Labianca murder trial.
In the article, published during the 10-month-old trial, Farr claimed that the Charles Manson “family” had planned to kill several celebrities.
Superior Court Judge Charles H. Older, who presided over the Tate-Labianca trial, found Farr in contempt of court 17 separate times. He ordered the former Newsman to return to court at 2 p.m. next Monday for formal findings and sentencing.
Farr 36, who is now news secretary for Dist. Atty. Joseph P. Busch Jr., faces five days in jail or a $500 fine on each count. Judge older also could order him to jail until he answers the questions.
Dep. County Counsel William Stewart and Judge Older, whom Stewart represents asked Farr questions about 90 minutes yesterday.
Farr answered most of them, but he refused to answer 17 claiming the reporter’s privilege against being held in contempt of court for declining to reveal the source of his information.
The privilege is contained in section 1070 of the State Evidence Code.
In an earlier hearing, Farr divulged only that his source of information came from one or more of the six attorneys of record in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial.
At the last hearing in the case, each of the six attorneys— three for the prosecution and three for the defense — denied they had given Fair his information.
Farr’s article claimed that Tate-LaBianca murder defendant Susan Atkins had told a cellmate Virginia Graham, that Manson’s cult had planned to kill celebrities such as the Richard Burtons. Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones.
Stephen Reinhardt, attorney for the American Newspaper Guild, acting as a friend of the court,
asked Judge Older to reconsider his rulings on the contempt. The judge refused.
In an earlier hearing, Judge Older declared Farr’s case is not a confrontation between the court and the news media.
“It is a direct confrontation with the press,” Reinhardt asserted.
The attorney said the statute containing the reporter’s privilege is “clear and absolute.”
He said the privilege does not end when a reporter changes his employment or when he is unemployed.
Reinhardt said the judge’s ruling infringes on the basic freedom of the press. Judge Older reiterated his earlier stand that Farr was not engaged in legitimate news gathering when he obtained copies of Miss Graham’s statement.
Judge Older said it is a question of separation of powers, and claimed the State Legislature, by enacting Section 1070, had not intended it to cover the Farr situation, or it would “frustrate” the court’s investigative powers.
Farr admitted from the witness stand he got three copies of Miss Graham’s statement, but refused to answer if these came from three different sources.
But Farr’s attorney, Grant B. Cooper, told the judge that two copies of the transcript came from the group of six attorneys who actively participate in the murder trial.
Farr refused to tell where he got the third copy.
Stewart stated to Farr the names of the six attorneys who tried the case and asked, in individual questions, if he obtained the copies from these lawyers.
Farr declining to answer these questions alone, Farr was found in contempt six times.
Farr claimed he gave no compensation to anyone for the copies, and said he had promised to keep his sources a secret.
He also testified that it was his recollection that he never told one of the Tate-LaBianca defense attorneys, Paul Fitzgerald, that no one on the defense team had given him copies.
(At an earlier hearing, Fitzgerald said Farr told him the copies had not come from the defense.)
Another question Farr refused to answer was whether he obtained a copy of the statement from anyone in the district attorney’s office, other than the three prosecutors in the Tate-LaBianca case.
In addition, he declined to say whether the statements were obtained from any of the associates of any of the trial attorneys.
There was “reticence” on the part of his sources to make copies available to him, Farr said.
He said in all three instances in which he obtained copies, he made the initial approach.