Local journalists arrested in small Alabama town for grand jury story

Washington Post reports

Press-freedom advocates are raising the alarm that the arrests of the Atmore News’s publisher and reporter are unconstitutional

A newspaper publisher and a reporter have been arrested for publishing an article that officials said was based on confidential grand-jury evidence — a move that press-freedom advocates are characterizing as an unconstitutional attack on the news media.

Publisher Sherry Digmon and reporter Don Fletcher of the Atmore News in southwestern Alabama were arrested last week after a story by Fletcher disclosed details of an investigation into the local school board’s payments to seven former school-system employees.

Digmon and Fletcher were charged by the Escambia County district attorney with revealing grand-jury proceedings, a felony under Alabama law. They face up to five years in jail.

While it’s illegal for a grand juror, witness or court officer to disclose grand-jury proceedings, it’s not a crime for a media outlet to publish such leaked material, provided the material was obtained by legal means, legal experts said.

Theodore J. Boutrous, an attorney who has represented media organizations, called the Alabama case “extraordinary, outrageous and flatly unconstitutional.”

Read more