Newspaper found in contempt for refusing to turn over reporter’s notes

by ZeuCer

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Bakersfield Californian was found in contempt of court on Wednesday for refusing to turn over the notes of a reporter who interviewed a murder suspect in jail. An attorney for the newspaper said they’ll take the matter to an appeals court.

The notes are sought by Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, the attorney representing the interviewed suspect’s co-defendant in a shooting that killed a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counselor. Earlier this month, a judge ordered the Californian to give the notes to Blythe after determining they were “reasonably necessary” in helping her present a defense.

Thomas Burke, the paper’s attorney, has said the notes are protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and the state’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being compelled to disclose confidential sources or unpublished material.

Burke on Wednesday said the paper was requesting the contempt of court order because they couldn’t submit the matter to the 5th District Court of Appeal without it. Judge Tiffany Organ-Bowles issued the order but, at Burke’s request, agreed to hold it until June 5 to give the attorney time to file a writ with the appeals court.

Blythe represents Robert Pernell Roberts, 30, who is charged with murder and attempted robbery in the Aug. 24 death of Benny Alcala Jr., 43.

Californian reporter Ishani Desai interviewed Roberts’ co-defendant, Sebastian Parra, in jail. Blythe, upon reading Desai’s article, filed a motion seeking the reporter’s list of questions and notes taken during the interview.

Parra, 23, served as the prosecution’s key witness during Roberts’ preliminary hearing, testifying Roberts targeted Alcala in the belief he had money because he was charging an electric vehicle.

A grand jury indicted Parra in December. He has said he met Roberts the night of the shooting but denied involvement.

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