Former Journal reporter answers to subpoena

By Michael Maresh Journal staff writer

The Colorado Press Shield Law does not protect former Cortez Journal reporter Reid Wright from possibly being called to the stand to testify in what he observed in the case of the State of Colorado against Linda Vavra.

But the shield law does protect Wright from testifying on anything other than his personal observations.

District Court Judge Todd Plewe pointed out there were four exceptions to the press shield law provision that could force the media to testify.

One provision would have allowed Wright to testify but only to what was exactly written in the Oct. 29, 2011 article “Eye for drugged drivers,” in which Wright was on a law enforcement ride-along with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s office when Vavra was stopped and subsequently arrested.

Plewe said calling Wright to the stand in Vavra’s suppression hearing probably would not have much value in this exception, and section C of the state constitution would be irrelevant as Wright was not the only witness to Vavra’s arrest since there were other law enforcement officers as well as the arresting officer at the scene, so any information obtained from Wright could be found elsewhere.

However, section D of the state constitution does not protect the media from testifying if that reporter observes an arrest that results in a charge of a class 1, class 2 or class 3 felony.

Two of the charges against Vavra included a class 2 or class 3 felony.

Plewe said a newspaper’s privilege is outweighed when they have made a personal observation — in this instance — that could assist the court before denying attorney Christopher Beall’s motion to quash the subpoena.

Beall, representing the Journal argued the case via telephone.

Plewe also said Wright would only be allowed to respond to questions that pertained to his news gathering based on his personal observations and not on any other item that he learned afterwards.

During a recess, Vavra’s attorney, John Baxter, approached Wright and told him he was free to go because he had decided against calling him to the stand.

Baxter had said he wanted to determine what Wright saw because the article implied that he observed the entire stop, search and arrest.

Deputy Darrin Harper, the arresting officer, said he did not know what Wright heard or observed as the former reporter stayed close to his patrol car while the arrest was made.

Under questioning, Harper said he believed Wright was taking notes throughout the ride-along and added he himself did not see the search of Vavra. Harper also said that he showed the confiscated items to Wright afterwards.

Harper said he did not know if Wright had seen officers search Vavra.

Beall, out of the Denver-based law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch and Schulz LLP, wanted to know how Harper surmised the drug he found was in fact methamphetamine.

Harper said his 18 years in law enforcement and his experience in similar cases indicated that the drug was meth.

Beall also wanted to know whether Wright was present when the drug was tested to determine if it was methamphetamine, and Harper said the former reporter was not present for the testing.

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