A New York Times reporter must testify in an emotional-distress case regarding an interview he conducted with the defendant, the Riverside Church’s controversial leader, the Reverend James A. Forbes Jr., a Manhattan judge has ruled.
Reporter Daniel Wakin waived any exemption he may have enjoyed under New York’s Shield Law when he “voluntarily informed plaintiff of the specific information” he had heard while interviewing Reverend Forbes, Supreme Court Justice Walter B. Tolub ( See Profile) held in Guice-Mills v. Forbes, 124635/02.
The decision will be published tomorrow.
Justice Tolub granted plaintiff Constance Guice-Mills’ motion seeking the deposition of Mr. Wakin. However, the judge limited the scope of permissible questioning “to what was said by Mr. Wakin to [Ms. Guice-Mills], and what or who the source of the information was.”
Mr. Wakin interviewed both plaintiff Ms. Guice-Mills and Reverend Forbes for a July 2002 story entitled “Riverside Minister Faces an Internal Challenge, Again.”
Though not directly quoted, Ms. Guice-Mills was listed as one of “three main critics” who charged Reverend Forbes and the influential church’s administration with mismanaging its sizable endowment.
Founded in 1930 by John D. Rockefeller among others, the Gothic Riverside Church stretches across two Riverside Drive blocks, from 120th Street to 122nd Street. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama have graced its podium.
Mr. Wakin’s story juxtaposed Reverend Forbes’ substantial ambitions for the church alongside the allegations that he and others had “raid[ed] the endowment to finance operations.”
Three months after the article appeared in the Times, Reverend Forbes and others circulated among church members a copy of Ms. Guice-Mills’ criminal record in order to discredit her, according to Ms. Guice-Mills. She initiated a suit against Reverend Forbes and church-employee Frank Boone, alleging that their actions caused her emotional distress.
Ms. Guice-Mills also alleged that although Mr. Wakin had not included the information in the story, he had told her while interviewing her for his story that Reverend Forbes had told him that she had been involved in criminal proceedings.
Arguing that such testimony would establish the defendants’ use of her criminal record to “discredit and embarrass” her, Ms. Guice-Mills sought to depose Mr. Wakin regarding Reverend Forbes’ statements.
Mr. Wakin refused to testify, and Ms. Guice-Mills filed a motion to compel his testimony. She argued that Mr. Wakin waived his rights under the Shield Law ? which protects journalists from contempt citations when they refuse to disclose “unpublished news” gained while reporting a story ? by voluntarily disclosing to her what Reverend Forbes had told him.
Justice Tolub agreed, and ordered Mr. Wakin to be deposed, although on a narrow basis.
“[W]hile Mr. Wakin is subject to the subpoena compelling his testimony, the scope of the questioning is strictly limited to what was said by Mr. Wakin to plaintiff, and what or who the source of the information was,” Justice Tolub ruled.
New York Times senior counsel David E. McCraw said that he and Mr. Wakin have not decided whether to appeal.
“This is one of those subpoenas that falls within the nuisance category,” Mr. McCraw said. “The important thing here is that the judge really understood that this really had to be a very, very narrow deposition. I can’t imagine [the deposition] being more than 10 minutes the way it’s teed up.”
Mr. Wakin, who has been a reporter for 20 years, the last six with the Times, said he was surprised by the subpoena, his first.
“It’s not a criminal case, it’s not an anonymous source,” said Mr. Wakin, who has transferred from the religion beat to classical music and dance. “I feel a little extraneous to the whole thing, but obviously the [plaintiff] didn’t think so.”
Ms. Guice-Mills’ attorney, J. Owen Zurhellen, did not return a call for comment.
? Mark Fass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.