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March 08, 2011

Judge cuts Boston Globe reporter some Slack

Boston Globe reporter Donovan Slack on Tuesday succeeded in blocking a former Boston street performer's effort to subpoena her.

In a 14-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell rejected the pleas by performer Bruce Peck. Peck was seeking to compel Slack's testimony, a part of his suit against the city of Boston. Specifically, Peck was trying to find out more about space restrictions imposed by Boston on street performers at the city’s Faneuil Hall beginning in the summer of 2008.

As Judge Howell noted, the Globe in August 2008 published an article by Slack entitled “A Rhythmic, Rocking Cradle of Liberty No More, City Corrals Street Artists at Faneuil Hall.” Wrote Slack:

"City security officers descended on the plaza around nearby Faneuil Hall and imposed new restrictions on the artists who have become accustomed to entertaining the crowds on the historic site, known on tourist brochures as the Cradle of Liberty...[Boston Police Officers] shooed away clowns and caricature artists. They ordered music and dance acts to contain their performances to a single, small patch of brick – measuring 15 feet by 15 feet – near a stand of trees."

Peck said the city's crackdown violated his First Amendment free speech rights. When he sought Slack's testimony, she invoked a reporter's privilege. Judge Howell upheld her, in part because Peck had failed to demonstrate he had tried to his utmost to find the information he sought through alternative means. Wrote the judge:

"The court will only override a reporter’s privilege as a last resort, and the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that he attempted to identify other sources. He has not provided the Court with specific details regarding efforts he has taken, the number of witnesses he tried to contact, depositions he attempted, or even the number of hours he spent attempting to track down alternate eyewitnesses."




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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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