There’s been extensive coverage (here, here, here, and here) in the last week of the arrest and subsequent dismissal of charges against Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the founders of the Phoenix New Times, a print and online newspaper. Lacey and Larkin were arrested for violating Arizona’s grand jury secrecy statute,
which makes it a criminal offense for anyone to disclose a “matter attending a grand jury proceeding,” after they published details from a grand jury subpoena they received.
In a post published on our site yesterday, the Citizen Media Law Project’s assistant director Sam Bayard offered a careful analysis of the facts and law involved in the case.
While we believe the Arizona statute is overbroad and violates the First Amendment, the case highlights the importance of knowing the laws — especially the quirky local laws — that apply to your newsgathering and publishing activities. Even if you decide to go forward with a planned course of action, it’s important to understand your potential legal liability so that your decision can be made with full knowledge of the risks involved.
It may be that Lacey and Larkin had consulted legal counsel to understand Arizona’s grand jury secrecy law before they made the decision to publish, but most freelance and non-traditional journalists don’t have a lawyer on hand. As we roll out our citizen media legal guide, which will cover grand jury secrecy rules, we hope that the Citizen Media Law Project can start to fill this gap.