As we reported last week, the California Supreme Court squelched the Santa Barbara Independent's last legal hope in a long fight over turning over some unpublished crime scene photographs. With the court declining to hear an appeal, the paper and staff photographer Paul Wellman faced criminal punishment -- including possible jail time -- if they continued to hold the photos. So the Independent, rather than give the photos to the district attorney, decided to publish all 334 of them on its website this week. "We did make a point of dragging this case out to the bitter end," explains news editor Nick Welsh. "This was in part inspired by the assault on the media that's been taking place for the past eight years, and the utter contempt for the public's right to know -- anything -- displayed by the Bush Administration."

Continue ReadingAlt-Weekly Explains Why it Held Photos … Then Publishes Them All

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paper's attorneys argue the judge failed to provide any evidence there was "a reasonable possibility" that Wellman's unpublished photos "will materially assist" the defense attorney who asked for them.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