Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Bowing to Subpoena Wyo. Paper Gives Up Photos

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Bowing to Subpoena Wyo. Paper Gives Up Photos

Article excerpt

Unprotected by a state shield law, Caspar Star- Tribune is defenseless against Amoco attorneys seeking to defend the company in a civil pollution case

WHEN LAWYERS FOR Amoco Oil Corp demanded unpublished photographs from the Caspar StarTribune, Wyoming's biggest paper immediately went to court and argued the photos were protected by the First Amendment.

The newspaper didn't get 'very far - and within three months, the photos were in the hands of the lawyers.

Despite its size and the wealth of its chain owner, Howard Publications, the Star-Tribune could not overcome one big legal obstacle: Like 20 other states, Wyoming doesn't have a shield law.

The Star-Tribune thought it had a pretty good federal case, but U.S. District Judge CA. Brimmer ruled otherwise. He ordered the photos be handed over by April 14 - an order the newspaper did not appeal.

"I've got to tell you, I was shocked at the judge's ruling," Star-Tribune editor David Hipschman said.

"Our alternative was to take it to the full 10th Circuit panel and keep it going, but the best advice we got from top lawyers not only here but back East - we are owned by Howard Publications and they put us in touch with some lawyers - was that absent a shield law, there's really nothing you can do," Hipschman continued.

And Wyoming is unlikely to get a shield law anytime soon for reasons ranging from apathy to political grudges against the Star-Tribune.

"This has not been a top priority," said Nancy Shelton, who is serving temporarily as the executive director of the Wyoming Press Association. "It's a combination of an unwillingness to open a can of worms by going to the Legislature and a lack of consensus, frankly, that we need one," she added. The fact that it is the Star-Tribune suffering also weighs against any adoption of a shield law.

Even with a circulation of just 32,000, the StarTribune is still twice as big as the next largest paper and is the only daily distributed statewide. It is seen by many in the state as too dominant - and too liberal.

"There are people who still refer to the StarTribune as the Red Star," Hipschman said.

"When I go off and pontificate about the need for a shield law, the legislators are just going to go off laughing," he added. …

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