A New York Supreme Court justice ruled today that a writer preparing a book on a series of alleged murders has no right to refuse to comply with a defendant's subpoena for some of his notes.
In another defeat for writers attempting to protect their notes following the case of New York Times reporter M. A. Farber, Justice Sybil Hart Kooper found that neither the New York shield law that protects reporters' sources nor the First Amendment protects writer Lee Hay' notes.
Kooper's ruling, however, did not address the constitutional confrontation that was at the center of the Farber case -- a defendant's right to a fair trial and a reporter's right to a fair trial and a reporter's right to protect sources.
Instead, Kooper ruled that Hays is not a Journalist because he is writing a book, not working for a news-gathering organization.
The New York shield law, Kooper found, specifically omits writers working on books from the categories of protected writers.
Kooper rejected the argument of Hays' lawyer, Melvin L. Wulf, that the shield law should be construed broadly because the function of reporters is the same whether they gather news for newspapers or books.
Kooper's decision dwells on the shield law and, in passing, dismisses Hays' second claim to protection under the First Amendment of the Constitution on the same grounds -- that Hays is not a journalist.
Kooper's decision would seem to say that all book authors are denied First Amendment protections because these are reserved to journalists. "... Mr. Hays is not a journalist and... neither the shield law nor the freedom of press amendments to the United States and New York constitutions are applicable," Kooper wrote in her only direct mention of her reasons for rejecting Hays' claim of a First Amendment defense.
Hays was served with a subpoena in October by Joel Ezra, an attorney defending Navatro LeGrand against two murder charges.
Kooper threw out a first subpoena for being too vague, and Ezra then subpoenaed Hays a second time, requesting only tape recordings and notes of Hays' conversations with Frank Holman, a probable prosecution witness against LeGrande.
Kooper ruled today that Hays must turn over such tapes and notes after Holman takes the witness stand. She ordered all materials relevant to Holman's testimony given to the defense and said she will screen out any irrelevant material.
Wulf said today there will be an appeal.
Hays and Margaret Fuller are writing a book for Harper & Row about a huge family headed by a self-proclaimed bishop, Devernon LeGrand, who is now in prison for murdering two teen-age sisters whose dismembered bodies were found in a Catskills lake.
The bishop had more than 50 children by more than 10 women and was said to have received more than $250,000 a year by sending his family and followers to beg on Brooklyn streets.
At least 15 people associated with the family have disappeared, leading to a number of murder charges.