MADISON - In a rare move, a Dane County judge is compelling three journalists to testify in the trial of two women accused of assaulting a state lawmaker during protests and riots last summer over racial discrimination.
Judge Josann Reynolds on Thursday sided with prosecutors who argued testimony from Isthmus newspaper reporter Dylan Brogan, WORT-FM radio reporter Chali Pittman and WKOW television reporter Lance Veeser on the night of June 23, 2020, is crucial to the case and that the information could not be retrieved by any other source.
Those requirements must be met to overcome the state law shielding journalists from disclosing confidential sources and other newsgathering information. But an attorney representing the journalists called the judge's conclusion incorrect because hundreds of other people were on hand the night of the assault and could provide witness testimony.
Thursday's ruling puts the journalists in a difficult position of balancing legal obligations and ethical principles requiring them not to participate in stories they cover.
"Today the judge basically said as a journalist I'm a material witness — well it's very hard to be both," Brogan said. "Putting me or any other reporter on the stand to put forth this narrative seems very inappropriate to me. That's up to the district attorney to do."
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, was physically attacked for using his camera phone to film the protesting and rioting that occurred on a night last summer in the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man, by a white police officer.
Prosecutors charged Samantha Hamer and Kerida O'Reilly, both of Dane County, in the assault. They are accused of beating the state senator as he tried to take video of a crowd that had torn down statues during the protest. A crowd charged Carpenter and he was kicked and punched in the head, injuries that required surgery.
The three reporters are considering appealing the judge's ruling compelling them to testify about that night.
"Everything I know, I published," Brogan said. "I don't think it's a good precedent. I think part of protecting journalists to allow them to do their job is not to put them in this compromising position."
Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey told the judge in a brief arguing to subpoena the journalists that "an objective view of the mood and tenor of the protesters and crowd, the way the two defendants rushed the Victim, corroboration of the fact that they pushed him down, are not obtainable anywhere else."