The Reporter covers Miller, Morgan and Camden County in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and is published once per week on Wednesdays.


Published March 14, 2018

O’Dell asks judge to force deposition and fine journalist

CAMDEN COUNTY - Katherine A. O’Dell, attorney for County Commissioners Greg Hasty, Don Williams and Beverly Thomas, have asked the federal court judge to force Lake Sun Reporter Joyce Miller to answer questions and to fine her and her attorney Jean Maneke.

Miller was subpoenaed to give a deposition in the lawsuit filed by Rowland Todd against the three county commissioners.

Todd is claiming the commissioners violated his First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech because he spoke out against what he felt was the county wasting money in the hiring of a new Human Resources Administrator and also claims that Hasty publicly called him a thief in that he “stole records” from the Human Resource Department.

It has not been stated why Miller, who is not connected to the case or any of the parties involved was ordered to give a deposition.

O’Dell claims in her request filed with the court on February 27 that during Miller’s deposition on February 13, she claimed “newsgathering privilege” objections to many of the questions during the deposition.

O’Dell wants the judge to force Miller to give another deposition and to not allow her to use “newsgathering privilege.”

“COME NOW Defendants Greg Hasty, Beverly Thomas, and Don Williams (jointly ‘Defendants’) by and through counsel, and respectfully move that this Court overrule Joyce Miller’s ‘newsgathering privilege’ objections, compel her to re-appear for a deposition, and order Miller and her attorney, Jean Maneke, to pay the Defendants’ reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees, caused by Miller’s failure to act in good faith in responding to questions during her deposition and failure to assert the newsgathering privilege consistently with this Court’s Order and applicable caselaw.

“Defendants respectfully request that this Court issue an order overruling Miller’s objections, compelling her to re-appear for deposition, and sanctioning Miller and Attorney Maneke as requested herein, and for such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.”

Sources for news stories and how the facts are gathered vary greatly depending on the story or the reporter writing it so “newsgathering privilege” is a legitimate reason for a reporter to not answer questions.

Many times something is told to the reporter casually, anonymously or even just a rumor which is then pursued into a possible story.

Some of those sources of information need to be confidential and if revealed can damage the ability to gather future news and damage the reputation of the reporter.

There are times when an elected official will say something in confidence or off the record because they know the reporter can be trusted with the information.

If that trust is betrayed – voluntarily or by court order – then that source of information and the relationship between the reporter and the source will become non-existent.

Many times sources of news stories are information from public sources like minutes of meetings or court documents.

For example, all the sources of information that this newspaper uses for these articles on this lawsuit come from actual federal court documents that are public information.

The Reporter does not speak individually to any party involved in a court case about their case. That party can speak through their lawyer or through the court documents.

If a party in a lawsuit wishes to go on the record separate from their attorney, they can, but it usually is not a good idea (for their case).

We did receive a request from Commissioner Don Williams in December of last year requesting that the commissioners be able to tell their side of the story. Williams wanted to do a sit-down interview. After some discussion it was decided that an alterative solution would be better.

We were asked to send questions to the three commissioners so they could run them by their legal counsel before answering them. We submitted the same 10 questions by email on December 13, 2017 to all three commissioners and to Rowland Todd (to be fair).

As of press time we have not received an answer from any of the parties.

Therefore in this example, our only source of information is the public documents available through the federal court system.

A second example is back in the late 1990’s a newspaper reporter received an anonymous tip that there was an abandoned CAFO that had dead rotting pigs on the property. The reporter and the news photographer went to check the tip out and confirmed the situation.

The police were called. Due to the article and accompanying photos, the property was cleaned up at no cost to the land owners (who had leased the property for the CAFO operation).

The source of the anonymous tip was eventually revealed to the reporter but it was not revealed to the public to protect the source.

O’Dell states in her arguments in favor of forcing Miller that she and her attorney did not abide by their agreement or by the judge’s order.

“Based on the Court’s Order, and relying on the representations of Attorney Maneke that Miller would assert privilege where appropriate, but would answer ‘fact questions,’ Defendants noticed Miller’s deposition to take place on February 13, 2018. Miller appeared as ordered with her counsel. However, immediately after the deposition began, Attorney Maneke requested to make a statement on the record. Among other things, Attorney Maneke stated: ‘I am going to allow my client to testify confirming information about the quotes in the story being true and accurate reproductions of statements made by her. I continue to believe that the Continental Cablevision case asserts that there is a First Amendment and Missouri constitutional privilege related to journalists’ news-gathering techniques and processes and I will insist that my client not answer any questions that relate to those types of inquiries,’” court documents stated.

O’Dell says that Maneke was warned by the commissioner’s attorney that “the limits she was imposing were not what was discussed in the hearings with the Court, or what was in its Order, and that Miller was expected to do more than confirm statements in news articles.”

In addition, O’Dell said the commissioner’s attorney further advised her they would seek sanctions to the extent that her objections were contrary to the Court’s instruction or made in bad faith.

“Attorney Maneke continued objecting and limiting Miller’s testimony in a manner inconsistent with this Court’s Order, with discussions during hearings with this Court, and with applicable case law. Due at least in part to those and other improper objections by Attorney Maneke, Miller was less than cooperative as a witness, providing only selective and self-serving disclosures. Defendants have been prejudiced as a result, and respectfully request Miller and Attorney Maneke be sanctioned for the reasons set out herein,” O’Dell said in her court filing.

She is seeking that Miller be ordered to appear in another deposition and that she be ordered to answer the questions.

In addition, O’Dell wants Miller and Attorney Maneke fined.

“…Defendants respectfully request that this Court sanction Miller and Attorney Maneke by ordering them to pay the Defendants’ reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees, incurred due to Miller’s bad faith assertion of the ‘newsgathering privilege’ in response to almost every fact question.”

Maneke filed a document asking for more time to respond to O’Dell’s filing, due to several issues.

In her court filing Maneke said “Non-Party Joyce Miller, through her undersigned counsel, hereby respectfully requests an extension of time through March 19, 2018, to respond to Defendant’s Motion to Compel Testimony of Joyce Miller and for Sanctions. This party consulted with counsel for Plaintiff (Todd) and Defendants (the county commissioners) regarding the relief sought in this motion and Plaintiff’s counsel consented, but Defendants’ counsel refused to consent to this request.

“The Motion raises complex issues of law. An enlargement of time for filing Movant’s response is necessary due to Movant’s Counsel’s workload and vacation schedule.”

Maneke is from the Maneke Law Group in Kansas City and she is also the attorney for the Missouri Press Association, which represents 286 newspapers throughout the state (including this one).

Late last week District Judge Brian C. Wimes ruled on Maneke’s request.

“IT IS ORDERED Non-Party Miller’s Motion for Extension of Time to Respond to Defendants’ Motion to Compel and for Sanctions is, over Defendants’ objection, GRANTED. Miller shall respond to the motion to compel and for sanctions on or before March 19, 2018.”

In addition, another deposition request for Commissioners Hasty and Williams was filed by Todd’s attorney, Jerry M. Kirksey. Both of these depositions were scheduled to take place yesterday (March 13).

The case is ongoing.

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