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Bill to bolster Colo. media shield law fails

Monday, January 27, 2014
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— Lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposal to increase legal protections for reporters and their sources in Colorado, an idea that was prompted by the case of a New York reporter who was pressured to divulge sources in the 2012 suburban Denver theater shootings.

The proposal would have made it harder for reporters to be forced to reveal their sources in court because the legal standards to compel testimony would be higher.

The bill was crafted because of Jana Winter, a Fox News journalist who reported that James Holmes, the suspect in the theater shootings, had mailed a notebook to a psychiatrist depicting violence. Holmes' lawyers tried to get Winter to name her sources.

"Her situation was what gave me the impetus to do this bill in the beginning," said Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, the bill's sponsor. "So of course I'm disappointed that we didn't strengthen the shield law because I think that freedom of the press acting as watchdogs of government is very important."

Herpin's proposal did not get enough votes to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with three Democrats voting against the bill and two Republicans in support.

Opponents of the bill argued Colorado's law already offers sufficient protections to journalists.

"We believe that this bill is a fix in search of a problem," said Bridget Klauber, the interim executive director of the Criminal Defense Bar. Klauber said during her testimony against the bill on Jan. 15 that it would be dangerous to change law based on the Holmes case, which she described as a rare instance in which a reporter was pressured to divulge sources in Colorado.

But supporters pointed out that it was a court in New York, not Colorado, that ultimately prevented Winter from testifying. New York is considered to have among the strongest media -shield laws in the nation. Most states have protections for journalists, but to varying degrees.

"In the end, I was deeply fortunate to be from a state that gives the strongest available protections to journalists and their confidential sources," Winter said in a statement read by Herpin when he presented his bill earlier this month. The bill had been delayed until Monday for a vote.

Winter's statement in support of the bill said that she hoped it would pass so "no one else will ever have to endure the hardships I lived through." She said while she faced her subpoena, sources stopped talking to her and she received harassing phone calls and threatening Internet postings.

Democratic Sen. Lucia Guzman, who voted against the bill, said Monday that she needed to weigh the interests of the courts in some cases to get information from journalists, as well as the need to have a free press.

"It's been a very difficult one for me," she said.

 
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