In perhaps the first test of Washington state’s new shield law, the Seattle city attorney has demanded that three Seattle Times reporters reveal the identities of sources who provided information for articles on police misconduct. The demand is a highly unusual move that comes amid a $6 million lawsuit filed by a former police officer. The Times articles, published in 2004 and 2005, focused on several police officers who were under investigation for allegedly accepting favors from businesses and overlooking illegal drug use.
Officer John Powers was accused of using cocaine. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske found Powers guilty of unbecoming conduct, misuse of authority, and other departmental violations. He has been fired. Powers contested the firing and said he was defamed in The Times by named and unnamed city officials. The city wants to know who gave The Times its information. Reporters Steve Miletich, Mike Carter, and Christine Willmsen got subpoenas yesterday demanding they reveal those sources. “We oppose this vehemently, and we believe the First Amendment and the state’s recently enacted reporter-shield law provide firm legal ground for our position,” said Times Executive Editor David Boardman. No media expert consulted by the Times could recall a case where state reporters faced jail.