Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter — whose legal travails became a rallying cry for media groups seeking to create a federal shield law to protect journalists — will not have to go to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources. In a decision hailed by reporters rights groups, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland said Ashenfelter could keep his silence by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a civil lawsuit brought by former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino.
Convertino is suing his former bosses at the U.S. Justice Department, contending they leaked confidential information about him to Ashenfelter in 2004 in retaliation for his criticism of the department. Convertino argues that, to succeed in his lawsuit, he needs to know who in the Justice Department revealed that he was under an internal investigation for his handling of a now-discredited terrorism case. Convertino claims the leak was part of an effort to smear him. Convertino attorney Stephen Kohn called a Fifth Amendment claim asserted by Ashenfelter a clever ruse. “The Department of Justice is helping  hide the true culprits,” he said. “For a journalist to set forth these facts is very, very troubling … especially given the hardship suffered by Mr. Convertino.”