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Bail Release Granted For Video Journalist

Bay City News
Friday September 01, 2006

A freelance journalist who has spent a month in prison was granted release on bail by a federal appeals court in San Francisco today while he appeals a subpoena requiring him to give a videotape of a demonstration to a U.S. grand jury. 

Attorney Dan Siegel said he expects Josh Wolf, 24, to be freed on his own recognizance from the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin either by Friday morning. 

Wolf has been imprisoned since U.S. District Judge William Alsup found him in civil contempt of court on Aug. 1 for refusing to give a grand jury unpublished sections of a videotape he took of an anarchist demonstration in San Francisco on July 8, 2005. 

Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a one-page order that the government “has not shown that this appeal is frivolous or taken for purposes of delay.”  

The bail release will be in effect until a different three-judge panel of the appeals court rules on Wolf’s appeal of the contempt finding. 

Siegel said, “I’m very pleased. I’m optimistic the appeal will be resolved in his favor.” 

The grand jury is investigating possible attempted arson to a police car during the demonstration, which was held to protest the Group of Eight summit meeting then taking place in Scotland. 

While California has a state shield law that generally protects news reporters from disclosing materials, there is no federal shield law. 

Wolf contends the federal connection to the case is remote and that the government’s need for the information should be weighed against the harm to his constitutional First Amendment rights. 

Prosecutors say the federal grand jury probe is proper because the San Francisco Police Department receives some federal funds. 

U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Luke Macaulay declined to comment on the bail order, but noted that prosecutors have previously said, “We have an obligation to the community to investigate and gather relevant and material evidence of serious crimes.” 

Wolf is one of four people who have been challenging subpoenas to testify before federal grand juries in San Francisco in recent weeks. 

On Monday, Alsup found Greg Anderson, a personal trainer for San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, in contempt of court and ordered him jailed for refusing to tell a grand jury whether Bonds used steroid drugs. Anderson, now in prison, is appealing.  

Last month, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected a challenge by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada to a subpoena requiring them to tell a different grand jury their source of leaked grand jury transcripts in a sports steroids probe centered about the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO).  

The two reporters are appealing that ruling and could be found in contempt of court and jailed if they lose the appeal.  

The Indiana-based Society of Professional Journalists is paying $31,000 of Wolf’s $60,000 legal fees to fight the subpoena in his case. 

Society President David Carlson said last week, “This case is evidence of a disturbing trend in which federal prosecutors are attempting to turn journalists into arms of law enforcement.” 

If not granted bail, Wolf could have been kept in prison until the grand jury’s term expires next July. If he loses the appeal, he could be returned to prison unless he gives up the videotape.