Crews in control
Shield Law trumps subpoena of local publisher’s notes
Self-avowed muckraker and old-school journalist Tim Crews is dedicated to investigating any whiff of corruption, misspending or other wrongdoing in Glenn County. In his duties as editor and publisher of the Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror, he’s no stranger to courtrooms, like the one he was ordered to appear in last Thursday (May 9).
Crews is currently involved in an ongoing battle over $56,000 in court costs a Glenn County Superior Court judge last year ruled he must pay, the result of a 2009 suit he filed against the Willows Unified School District for not properly and promptly responding to requests for public records. He also served five days in jail in 2000 for refusing to name a confidential source for an article he wrote involving a California Highway Patrol officer charged with stealing a gun.
This latest court appearance was in response to a subpoena from Glenn County District Attorney Robert Maloney, ordering him to turn over notes related to his reports on the case of Lonnie and Lena Forbes, who were arrested on the drive from Rolling Hills Casino to their home in Stonyford in September 2011, after celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary.
“The thumbnail version of the case is they pulled this couple over and arrested Lena because she’s a Prop. 215 medical-marijuana patient,” Crews explained. “Her husband, Lonnie, was arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and for the crime of not being deeply appreciative of cops.”
Crews said the subpoena was delivered after normal business hours on a Friday and ordered him to appear in court and turn over his notes the following Thursday—a clear attempt to keep him from obtaining proper counsel and preparing a defense, he charges.
“I’ve been to jail over something like this once before, but I’m a lot smarter now than I was then,” he said.
Crews obtained the services of San Francisco-based Duffy Carolan, with whom he’s worked before and calls “one of the top four or five media lawyers in California.”
Carolan prepared and delivered an objection to the subpoena to Maloney’s office before the court date. It detailed past relevant legal rulings and the reporter’s protection under the California Shield Law, which assures journalists don’t have to reveal their sources or share unpublished information with law enforcement or other organizations. Crews said Carolan’s objection was ignored. “It was obvious in court they hadn’t even bothered to look at it,” he said.
Judge Donald Cole Byrd quashed the demand for Crews’ notes.
“I’m just glad I had a rational judge and good counsel,” Crews said of the decision, “Because I just don’t really have the time to deal with this kind of bullshit. I’m grateful the Shield Law did what it is designed to do, which is keep them out of my pants.”
Just a few weeks ago, on April 27, Crews was honored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association with its Freedom of Information Award for his history of—and willingness to engage in—First Amendment battles regarding reporters’ rights to information.
“It’s great to be validated in that forum for what we do rather than for some kind of personality thing,” Crews said. “One of the most important things we can do as journalists is to keep filing these freedom-of-information requests. Usually, there’s a good story at the end of the trail.”
Awards and small victories, while encouraging, mean little to Crews, who’s determined to keep fighting the good fight.
“The older I get the more I find it’s just irrevocably broken, this whole damned system. Even when these things are uncovered, there’s virtually no one prosecuted for misconduct. The state never does a thing, and the Department of Justice is playing the same game.
“People fear exposure more than anything, even more than they fear prosecution, and that’s part of the problem. It’s a goddamned shame.”