Case Falls on Reporter's Silence

Article excerpt

BLOWING THE PROSECUTION'S case, a judge has upheld shield law protection for a California reporter who was subpoenaed as a witness in a preliminary hearing for four people accused of conspiring to manufacture methamphetamine.

Normally, a district attorney would write off such a decision and proceed with the prosecution. But in the recent ruling involving Sherry Barkas of the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, the suspects walked away free.

"We couldn't believe it," exclaimed editor Julie Shirley in an interview. "Sherry was his whole case and he dropped the charges."

The Freedom Communications Inc. newspaper quoted deputy district attorney Laurence Sager as saying the case "goes down the toilet" because of the ruling by Yuba County Municipal judge David Wasilenko. The reporter invoked the state shield law during her 25-minute appearance on the witness stand and only answered questions about her employment.

At issue was her 1996 story on methamphetamine use in the area. Her reporting included an interview with one of the suspects,Thomas Schneider, who, she wrote, "cooked, shot and sold" the drug. Chief deputy district attorney Patrick McGrath argued that the interview revealed past actions by Schneider that showed his history with drugs, and added," Somebody's past actions can be used to show what their intent is now or in the future." Schneider was accused as the mastermind of the operation. …


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