Independent Journalist Asserts Constitutional Rights and Resists Federal Grand Jury Subpoena
U.S. government dismissed subpoena yesterday to compel testimony and video evidence to grand jury
San Francisco, CA -- In a show of courage against an attempt by the federal government to obtain First Amendment protected information, independent journalist Josh Wolf refused to testify or provide video evidence yesterday to a federal grand jury convened in February. The grand jury is investigating events surrounding a July 2005 demonstration against the Group of Eight (G8) meeting that year in Scotland. Wolf asserted his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights as a basis for declining to answer the grand jury.
In a closed session, San Francisco District Court Judge William Alsup threatened Wolf with confinement for civil contempt if he did not comply with the subpoena. Judge Alsup was not the judge assigned to the case, and unfamiliar with prior proceedings, but insisted on hearing the matter. Making his position clear from the start, Judge Alsup ordered the hearing closed, barring a number of supporters and a San Francisco Chronicle reporter from the courtroom. The order ignored both Ninth Circuit case law and a previous order by Magistrate Maria-Elena James requiring that the hearings in the case be open.
At one point during the closed hearing, Judge Alsup called in U.S. Marshals in what appeared to be an attempt to intimidate Wolf and his attorneys. "What we saw today was the harassment and intimidation of a journalist and an activist," said Samantha Levens of the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), who observed the Marshals in the courtroom. "Yet, the dismissal of the subpoena shows how important it is to resist misuse of government power in order to obstruct political fishing expeditions and suppression of free speech rights."
The grand jury was convened ostensibly to investigate alleged damage to a police vehicle at the time of the July protest. However, the GJRP, a coalition of lawyers and activists working to resist politically motivated attacks by government, condemned the still-active investigation. The GJRP claimed that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are working together to misuse the federal grand jury to circumvent the California Shield Law, which protects journalists' files and notes.
The U.S. government's harassment of Josh Wolf is part of a broader, renewed use of the federal grand jury to suppress dissent. Information compiled by the GJRP shows that grand juries are currently being used against environmental and animal rights activists, as well as groups that have historically struggled for self-determination, like the Black Panther Party, frequently based on information from years, and in some cases decades, ago. GJRP reports that in the past year, at least 54 individuals have been subpoenaed and/or indicted in Denver, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa, FL, and Trenton, NJ. At least fourteen people refused to testify, and some were jailed for contempt. In an affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of three environmental activists in Auburn, CA, the FBI irrelevantly referenced "anarchists" and "anarchism" 26 times. The GJRP believes that the grand jury to which Josh Wolf was subpoenaed is part of the same, broad and unconstitutional federal investigation into anarchist and antiwar activity as well as other political movements that oppose U.S. policies.