Newly-minted state Senator Bernie Herpin isn’t wasting any time getting started on his legislative agenda when the General Assembly kicks into gear next month. Herpin plans to introduce legislation to strengthen Colorado’s journalist shield laws, which came under the national spotlight this year when lawyers for
accused murderer James Holmes the Aurora theater shooter tried to compel Fox News reporter Jana Winter to reveal her sources in relation to some evidence about the case that came into her possession.
In a bill that could attract broad bi-partisan support, Herpin wants to create a journalist shield law that closely mirrors New York’s law, which is recognized as one of the best in the nation.
It was the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, that, in December, issued a strongly worded decision against the Aurora theater shooter’s petition to compel Winter to reveal who disclosed the contents of a notebook that the accused killer sent to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the mass shooting in Aurora.
On July 25, 2013, the Arapahoe County District Court issued a gag order that prevented the disclosure of the existence of the notebook, discovered two days prior, or its contents. On that same day, Winter filed a story titled “Exclusive: Movie Massacre Suspect Sent Chilling Notebook to Psychiatrist Before Attack,” and cited two law enforcement agents as her sources. Aurora theater shooter’s lawyers claimed that the release of this information compromised his right to a fair and impartial jury, and demanded that Winter reveal her sources.
The New York Court of Appeals overruled the lower court’s decision to compel Winter to appear in a Colorado court to reveal her sources. In the opening paragraph of the decision, Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote:
“New York’s Shield Law provides an absolute privilege that prevents a journalist from being compelled to identify confidential sources who provided information for a news story.”
If Herpin has his way, reporters in Colorado would be afforded the same fundamental protection. It looks to us like both Herpin and George Rivera, his newly-elected colleague, will be welcome voices of reason in an increasingly partisan state Senate.