The California State Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a petition from the Santa Barbara Independent and staff photographer Paul Wellman asking the court to review a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge's decision to hold the paper and Wellman in contempt of court for not handing over photos from a murder last year, the Independent reports. This exhausts the legal options the paper had to fight the initial ruling. "I'm not surprised," Independent attorney Mike Cooney says. "Even though I'm devoted to the concept the subpoena was overbroad, it's difficult for appellate courts to review during criminal proceedings." Wellman faces potential imprisonment and the paper faces fines if they continue to refuse the subpoena, but both parties haven't yet decided what to do.

Continue ReadingState Supreme Court Declines to Hear Alt-Weekly’s Contempt Case

Attorneys for the alt-weekly have filed legal papers with the California Court of Appeal arguing that a judge erred in finding the Indy in contempt of court for refusing to turn over all the crime scene photographs taken by Paul Wellman. The paper's attorneys argue the judge failed to provide any evidence there was "a reasonable possibility" that Wellman's unpublished photos "will materially assist" the defense attorney who asked for them. The legal standard required by California Constitution to penetrate California's shield law requires a reasonable possibility, the Indy reports.

Continue ReadingSanta Barbara Independent Fights Contempt Charge

The Santa Barbara Independent and photographer Paul Wellman were found in contempt of court Thursday for refusing to turn over unpublished photos which had been subpoenaed in the murder trial of a 14-year-old. Though California has a Shield Law to protect reporters and photographers in the media, it doesn't extend to every situation, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill said as he ruled against the Indy. The paper has been fined $1,000 and Wellman has not been sent to jail, pending a ruling by the California appellate court in Ventura. If The Indy loses there, the paper says it will take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Continue ReadingAlt-Weekly & Staff Photographer Found in Contempt of Court

After being ordered by a Superior Court judge to turn over more than 300 photos of a March 14 crime scene, an attorney for the Independent says the paper plans to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, photographer Paul Wellman is scheduled to appear in court next week for contempt proceedings, according to the Independent. "We think the protections provided by California reporters' privilege laws do not allow the state to turn newspapers into prosecuting agencies on their behalf, and so we are fighting this ruling," publisher Randy Campbell says. In other legal news, a judge on Monday allowed the copyright case brought against the Independent by the daily Santa Barbara News-Press to go to trial. However, the Indy says the ruling was mixed: Though the claim of copyright infringement survived and will see trial in January, the judge "entirely dismissed the News-Press' three claims of unfair business competition, intentional interference with business advantage, and negligent interference with business advantage." The final claim -- that the weekly stole trade secrets from the daily -- will be litigated at a later date.

Continue ReadingSanta Barbara Independent Appeals Decision, Will Not Turn Over Photos

In July 2006, a reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press wrote an article describing what occurred in the paper's newsroom the day a handful of top editors resigned. The story never made the paper; instead, the Independent got a hold of a draft and posted it on its website. The parent company of the News-Press then sued the Independent in federal court for copyright infringement. A federal judge yesterday indicated he was inclined to rule that the Independent did indeed infringe the News-Press' copyright on the article, the Santa Barbara Daily Sound reports. However, he expressed concern that the case was even brought to court, according to blogger Craig Smith, saying that while it did appear there had been a "technical" violation of copyright laws, he was at a loss to see what the damages or harm could possibly be. The judge also said that the doctrine of "fair use" would not provide a sufficient defense for the Independent. He said he will issue a final ruling after more thought on the case.

Continue ReadingCopyright Case Against Santa Barbara Independent Moves Forward

The 40,000-circulation SoCal weekly has hired the services of high-powered law firm Leopold, Petrich & Smith -- currently representing 20th Century Fox in the suits against the movie Borat -- in its legal battle against the Santa Barbara News-Press and its litigious owner, Wendy McCaw. McCaw's Ampersand Publishing accuses the alt-weekly of copyright infringement and a host of other offenses for posting a PDF of a story -- originally written for the News-Press -- about a public protest against the daily. Reporter Scott Hadly, who wrote the article, quit the News-Press after his story was killed by the assistant publisher. "We have never bowed to intimidation, and hope that by fighting [Ampersand], we are leading by example and showing that this little freebie weekly [isn't] going to roll over," writes Indy Pop Culture Editor Matt Kettmann.

Continue ReadingSanta Barbara Independent Fights Back in News-Press Case

The Washington Post reports that Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw has threatened legal action against three former employees and the Santa Barbara Independent. According to the Post, the alt-weekly received a cease-and-desist letter this week after it "published" a story -- originally written for the News-Press -- about a public protest against the daily. Reporter Scott Hadly, who wrote the article, quit the News-Press last Friday after his story was killed by the assistant publisher. Editor Marianne Partridge tells the Post that the Independent complied on the advice of its lawyers. (UPDATE: Independent Publisher Randy Campbell tells AAN News that he disagrees with the Post's characterization of the incident. He says his paper merely removed a PDF version of Hadly's story that had been posted on its Web site as a supporting document for the Independent's original reporting, which remains online.)

Continue ReadingThe Independent Pulls PDF From Web Site After Threat From Local Daily