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Judge abruptly sends Wolf case to U.S. Magistrate
by Howard Vicini
Wednesday Feb 14th, 2007 4:59 PM
BREAKING NEWS - In yet another strange twist in the case against San Francisco independent journalist, Josh Wolf, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who has rejected several defense requests to free Wolf, one as recently as last month, issued a brief order Tuesday saying he was referring the case to U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero "in the interest of reaching a resolution satisfactory to both sides.''

..Images from profiles posted at www.law.com

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..U.S. District Judge Wm Alsup ... U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero

'In the interest of reaching a resolution satisfactory to both sides'

Judge abruptly sends Wolf case to U.S. Magistrate

by Howard Vicini
Posted Wednesday, February 14 , 2007

San Francisco – In yet another strange twist in the case against San Francisco independent journalist, Josh Wolf, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who has rejected several defense requests to free Wolf, one as recently as last month, issued a brief order Tuesday referring the case to U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero "in the interest of reaching a resolution satisfactory to both sides.''

On February 6, Wolf surpassed the standing record of 168 of coercive confinement of a journalist in U.S. history for refusing to give up sources. Most legal experts had concluded that Wolf would remain in a federal holding facility in Dublin CA until the Grand Jury that issued the subpoena was dissolved in July. Others speculated that the Grand Jury would reconvene and that Wolf's period of incarceration could be extended for much longer.

Wolf has been in prison nearly six months for refusing a federal grand jury subpoena to turn over raw video he shot of an anarchist protest against corporate globalization held in San Francisco's Mission District in July 2005, though government lawyers had already obtained Wolf's edited video that he sold to a local independent television station that aired it on the day of the protest.

Alsup did not explain his order or give any indication for why he suddenly believed there was a reason to expect a settlement. Neither federal prosecutors nor Wolf have given any indication that they are ready to compromise and neither side has requested mediation.

Wolf's attorney, Martin Garbus, said today , "The Court has ordered mediation. We have asked the Magistrate to schedule the mediation as soon as possible. We will proceed with the mediation as soon as we can."

The case was brought against Wolf in federal court on the claim that demonstrators at the protest attempted to burn a police car, a federal crime according to government lawyers because the San Francisco Police Department receives funds from Homeland Security. Wolf and his lawyers accused the government of manipulating the case to side-step California 's shield law, which allows journalists to withhold unpublished material and confidential sources from prosecutors. There is no federal shield law to afford the same protection in federal court.

Wolf has received a considerable amount of Press attention in recent weeks in the time leading up to the date of setting a new record. However, his case received broad press attention from the start and he gained support from major professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists which gave him their 2006 Northern California Journalist of the Year award for his stand and made a substantial contribution to his defense fund.

The National Lawyers Guild condemned the handling of the case and several major newspapers, including Wolf's hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, published strong editorials in his favor, none of which seemed to impress Judge Alsup throughout the proceedings. The Chronicle has two reporters of its own, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who are facing the likely prospect of 18 months of confinement for refusing to comply with a federal subpoena to tell a grand jury who leaked secret testimony of Barry Bonds and other athletes in the government's steroid probe.

A case against technical writer, radio producer and independent journalist Saran Olson with similar implications was resolved on January 29, when the U.S. Army dropped its subpoena of Olson in the court martial of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada for refusing an order to redeplo y to Iraq . Olson interviewed Watada in May 2006, during which he asserted that it is his duty as an officer to evaluate the legality of his orders. He said that he could not participate in the Iraq War because it was 'manifestly illegal' and that it would make him a party to war crimes. Prosecutors then brought a subpoena to force Olson to testify as a prosecution witness to substantiate a charge in his court martial that was based on Olson's interview.

In their editorial, SF Chronicle editors stated, “…the really ominous element of the government's argument is the notion that a journalist can be compelled to turn over raw material -- be it notes or video outtakes -- at the government's whim. If that standard can apply to Josh Wolf, it can be used against CNN, NBC, Fox News or any independent journalist who is conducting an investigation or trying to record a chaotic event. Journalists are not agents of the government. "

Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild/CWA, noted, "What was once a cherished constitutional mandate that journalists operate free from government interference increasingly has come under attack."

"Josh is fighting a brave battle that an increasing number of journalists in the U.S. are facing today," said Jerry Zremski, president of the National Press Club. “Chillingly, many journalists must battle to keep their reporting from becoming a tool that prosecutors can use to further their cases."

Pacifica network's "Democracy Now" radio show held a prison interview with Wolf on Friday during which he said that his case shows the need for "a free media that's not encumbered by interference, that doesn't force journalists to act as agents of the State.''

Wolf's immediate fate is now in the hands of Joseph Spero appointed U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of California in 1998, after serving as pro tem judge in San Francisco 's Superior Court. While Spero is known for calm talk and reaching out to all participants in a case to resolve differences, it remains to be seen if he can find enough common ground in a case that has been contentious throughout because both Parties must stipulate their desire to have the case remain in the hands of a Magistrate; and, if either Party balks, the case will be returned to a U.S. District Judge.

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