A book author is not entitled to the same legal protection as a newspaper reporter when his notes or other confidentially obtained information are subpoenaed, a Brooklyn appeals court has ruled.
In upholding a lower court ruling against author Lee Hays, the Appelate Division of the Brooklyn Supreme Court issued the latest of a string of defeats for writers seeking to protect their notes following the much-publicized case of New York Times reporter M. A. Farber last year.
Justice Vito J. Titone wrote in the court's unanimous decision Monday that Hays' "interest in protecting the confidential information is manifestly less compelling than that of a journalist or newsman."
Hays' "contacts with confidential sources, being minimal vis-a-vis those of an investigative journalist, would be fat less likely to have any impact on the free flow of information which the First Amendment is designed to protect," Titone said.
Hays is also under a subpoena from a murder defendant.
Hays and coauthor Margaret Fuller are writing a book for Harper and Row about several murders involving the enormous family of self-styled bishop Devernon LeGrand.
LeGrand had more than 50 children by more than 10 women and at least 15 people who lived in his family headquarters at one time or another have disappeared. The bodies of several, including two teen-age sisters for whose murder LeGrand is now in prison, have been found.
One of the family leader's sons, Navatro LeGrand, is scheduled to go on trial for murder next week. He has subpoenaed Hays' notes of an interview Hays conducted with Frank Holman who is likely to be a major prosecution witness.
The defense wants the notes in order to impeach Holman's testimony should there be differences between what he told the writer and what he tells the court.
Hays plans to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.
The Hays case is the second Brooklyn echo of the Farber case. Pamela O'Shaughnessy has been sentenced to 10 days in prison for refusing to answer questions about her confidential sources for an article she wrote for a chain of weekly newspapers about drug trafficking.
O'Shaughnessy is free pending her appeal. Her testimony is being sought by the defendant in a narcotics case who is seeking to damage the credibility of the key witness against him. That witness has testified that he was not one of O'Shaughnessy's sources and the defense wants to ask O'Shaughnessy to confirm or deny his statement.