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Kansas judge: Reporter's notes are protected

By The Associated Press

10.21.02

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Unpublished material obtained by a journalist is protected by the U.S. Constitution and Kansas law no matter its origin, a state judge has ruled.

Rebecca Shelton, managing editor of the Kansas City Kansan, had sought the ruling after a municipal official subpoenaed her written notes and records for his defamation lawsuit against a source whom Shelton quoted in a story last year. Shelton was a reporter with the newspaper at the time.

LaVert Murray, Wyandotte County Unified Government economic development director, claims in the $75,000 lawsuit that Allan Baskett made false and damaging statements in Shelton's Feb. 11, 2001, story about the city's Enhanced Enterprise Zone. The newspaper was not named in the lawsuit.

Shelton's attorney, Carl Gallagher, had argued that because the subpoenaed material was not published, it was "neither relevant nor compelling." Wyandotte County District Judge George A. Groneman agreed.

In his Oct. 18 ruling, Groneman said a reporter's notes and other unpublished documents are privileged material under both state law and the First Amendment. He also stated such information is not subject to libel or defamation statutes.

Shelton called Groneman's decision "a great victory because the First Amendment was upheld completely."

"The judge's ruling sends a message there is still freedom of speech in Wyandotte County," Shelton said.

Murray was not in court Oct. 18.

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