By Bischof, Dan
News Media and the Law , Vol. 24, No. 4
A New Jersey trial court sided with a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter in a murder defendant's effort to force her to reveal information she gathered from interviews with a second man involved in a murder-for-hire.
The court ruled Nancy Phillips did not waive the reporter's privilege by her presence at the second man's confession to police.
Attorneys for accused murderer Rabbi Fred Neulander have appealed the motion denying access to the notes from interviews with Leonard Jenoff. In the notice of appeal, defense attorneys claim the reporter inspired Jenoff's confession, making her notes highly relevant to the proceedings.
In her ruling in late September, Camden County Superior CourtJudge Linda Rosenzweig quashed the subpoena served on Phillips. The judge decided to uphold the protections of the state shield law, known as the New Jersey Newsperson's Privilege, because the defendant failed to prove a waiver of it by clear and convincing evidence or by meeting a four-part test of relevancy and necessity to the defendant's case.
Phillips, who investigated the 1994 murder of Carol Neulander for the Inquirer, met Jenoff in February 1995. Jenoff claimed Fred Neulander hired him as a private investigator to find his wife's killer. During the next five years, Jenoff gave Phillips false information and leads.
In December 1999, Jenoff confessed to Phillips that Neulander had hired him to arrange the murder. In April, Jenoff told Phillips he was going to confess to authorities in "There is a difference between (establishing rapport with a source) and getting into personal disclosures and the kind of personal intimacies that would not be present in other personal relationships," Gross said.
"You can develop real trust and maintain professionalism at the same time. Part of that is to avoid getting your personal life into the life of the subject. That's usually a dead give-away," he said.
If there is a line for reporters' involvement in stories and with sources, it is hazy at best.
"Good reporters develop a rapport with sources in a way in which sources open up to them," the Poynter Institute's ethics program director Bob Steele said. "We have to be careful we don't inappropriately exploit people, that we don't take advantage of the vulnerable, that we aren't unfair, that we aren't disingenuous, that we don't lie."
"But the reporter has an obligation in the pursuit of truth - a legitimate pursuit of truth on behalf of the public - to seek out information through a variety of professional and ethical means and that ineludes seeking knowledge from and getting information from sources," he said.
"There is no hard and fast, clear cut line in the sand, so to speak," Quill editor Jeff Mohl said. "It tends to be different for different people. Different organizations tend to see it differently."
The Society of Professional Journalists authored a code of ethics for reporter involvement, directing, for example, that journalists "remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. …