Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Lawyers for Enquirer, Ventura tangle in court




By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A man who claims he was a confidential source for The Cincinnati Enquirer says the newspaper should be forced to admit he was a source and to explain how his name became public.

        But attorneys for the newspaper say reporters and editors will not confirm the identity of any source, even if someone readily admits to being a source.

        Lawyers for the Enquirer and George Ventura, the Salt Lake City man who says he was a source, argued their cases Monday during a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

        Mr. Ventura, a former Chiquita Brands International Inc. lawyer, sued the newspaper after a former Enquirer reporter, Michael Gallagher, identified him in court as a confidential source for articles he wrote about Chi quita. His lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

        The key issue in this case is Ohio's “shield law,” which protects reporters who refuse to identify sources.

        Reporters usually invoke the law when asked in court to name a source.

        In this case, however, Mr. Ventura has publicly stated he was a source for articles the newspaper published in 1998 about Chiquita.

        He claims the newspaper failed to protect his identity, harming his career as a lawyer and exposing him to criminal prosecution. He now wants the paper to disclose how his name became public.

        Enquirer lawyers say the shield law means reporters and editors cannot be compelled to identify anyone. They say the decision to invoke or waive rights under the shield law belongs to reporters — not sources.

        “The shield privilege is absolute and unconditional,” said Jack Greiner, an Enquirer lawyer.

        But Mr. Ventura's lawyers say the newspaper is invoking the shield law to protect itself, not to protect a source.

        “Everybody in this room knows George Ventura was a confidential source,” said John Feldmeier, one of Mr. Ventura's lawyers. “There's nothing to hide and nothing to protect.”

        The reporter, Mr. Gallagher, was fired by the paper and later admitted he illegally accessed voice-mail boxes of Chiquita executives. Mr. Ventura also was convicted of illegally accessing the voice-mail boxes.

        The newspaper's attorneys say no one employed by the paper has named any confidential sources.

        U.S. Magistrate Jack Sherman Jr. said he will decide the issue soon. A trial date has not been set.

       



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