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Miller says Halcro has no reporter privilege

Posted: March 4, 2012 - 1:07am

FAIRBANKS — Former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller is challenging the use of reporter privilege by blogger Andrew Halcro, saying the former state representative isn’t a journalist and shouldn’t be able to withhold his sources of information.

Miller deposed Halcro last month in preparation for his upcoming lawsuit against the Fairbanks North Star Borough and former Mayor Jim Whitaker. During the deposition, Halcro repeatedly declined to reveal who fed him details about Miller during his 2010 campaign, citing reporter privilege, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/AsarGT).

But in court documents, Miller attorney John Tiemessen argues that Halcro shouldn’t have that right. The filing said Halcro’s blog posts were the work of an admitted supporter of Miller’s Republican primary opponent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and not a news-gathering organization.

“He is therefore a political blogger, not a news reporter,” the motion states. “He does not present information to the public through a news organization, and therefore cannot assert this statutorily based privilege.”

Halcro also reportedly made comments during a radio interview that indicate he doesn’t view his blog in a journalism framework, Tiemessen wrote. At one point the filing said Halcro said his blog “gets these stories out there for the media to pick up.”

Halcro included several items on his blog during the campaign that questioned Miller’s work history as a part-time borough attorney. One brief entry incorrectly stated Miller had been fired from that job, while another questioned Miller’s rehire status.

Halcro’s blog posts weren’t entirely true. Miller wasn’t fired by the borough, records ultimately showed, but instead abruptly resigned over a leave dispute. The episode left him ineligible for rehire for three years, the borough determined. Halcro said he had a source for his information. But aside from saying it didn’t come from a current or former borough employee, he declined to reveal it during the deposition.

The use of a media shield law by a blogger is an untested area in Alaska law. The statute that protects news organizations from revealing confidential sources dates to the 1970s, long before the Internet became widely available.

Tiemessen signaled in a Feb. 15 letter to other parties in the case that he planned to challenge the use of reporter privilege for both Halcro and News-Miner Managing Editor Rod Boyce, who also declined to discuss sources during a deposition.

But the Feb. 27 court motion doesn’t mention the News-Miner, however, and no separate filing involving the newspaper had been made as of Friday.

“We’re pleased that the motion seems to recognize the privilege that’s been given to the News-Miner,” said Cory Borgeson, the newspaper’s attorney.

Miller spent much of January and February collecting depositions for the lawsuit, questioning a handful of borough employees and media members as part of his preparation for the case.

Miller is accusing the borough of improperly leaking information from his borough personnel file during his 2010 campaign, when several media outlets, including the News-Miner and Halcro, published stories he said included confidential information.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial the week of Oct. 8 before Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides.

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