Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern over a subpoena ordering an Idaho reporter to testify in court, and called on the state’s judiciary not to enforce such an order.
Yesterday, Nate Eaton, the news director at the local website EastIdahoNews.com, posted on Twitter an image of a subpoena ordering him to appear in a local county court on June 9 to give witness testimony in a conspiracy case he has covered extensively, relating to the deaths of two children. John Prior, an attorney representing the defendants in the case, filed the subpoena and the county’s deputy clerk signed it, according to the document on the website of the Idaho judiciary.
“Attorneys should refrain from subpoenaing journalists, and U.S. courts should not grant such orders, which imperil reporters’ abilities to do their jobs,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “EastIdahoNews.com reporter Nate Eaton belongs in the courtroom’s press box and not on the witness stand.”
CPJ called and emailed Prior for comment, but did not receive any response.
The Clerk of District Court who signed the subpoena, Eileen Parker, referred CPJ to Tammie Whyte, the trial court administrator for the Seventh District, who told CPJ that the process for issuing the subpoena was set forth in Idaho’s criminal rule 17. “I can’t speak for the presiding judge as to whether they’re going to enforce the subpoena or not,” she said in a phone interview.
EastIdahoNews.com managing editor Nate Sunderland told CPJ in a phone interview today that Eaton had not yet been served the subpoena.
“Nate’s been covering this [case] for a year and a half now, and if he was called to the stand, it would really ruin his opportunity to continue covering it,” Sunderland told CPJ. “That’s our biggest concern—our ability to objectively cover this if we’re suddenly part of the story.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which CPJ is a founding partner, documented 31 subpoenas filed to journalists and news organizations in 2020.