Lynch sides with Bush against shield law


As he gears up for 2010, AG Patrick Lynch has assembled an eclectic and sometimes contrary portfolio of issue-related stances.

As I wrote back in January:

The AG seemed a progressive champion — and he incurred the wrath of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin — when he ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples who wed out-of-state should be recognized in Rhode Island (a week earlier, his sister, Pawtucket City Solicitor Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta, had married in Massachusetts her longtime partner).
Yet civil libertarians were outraged when Lynch, backing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance amendments, recently supported the role of private telephone companies to help US intelligence agencies.

Earlier this year, Lynch emerged earlier this year as a strong supporter of Barack Obama (a story first reported here). Yet he has now placed himself in the ironic position of sharing George W. Bush's outlook on an important issue affecting the press -- and everyone's right to know.

Ed Fitzpatrick reported earlier this week:

PROVIDENCE — Although the bill is backed by 42 other attorneys general, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch is refusing to support the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create a qualified federal shield law for reporters.

The bill, which has passed the House and been recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make it harder for judges to order journalists to reveal confidential sources. ....

Lynch became president of the National Association of Attorneys General on June 19 during the group’s annual summer meeting, held in Providence.

Four days later, in a June 23 letter, a bipartisan group of 41 attorneys general urged Senate leaders to pass a federal shield law, and prosecutors intend to deliver the letter when the Senate returns from its summer recess July 8. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, wrote separately to endorse the bill.

In their letter, the 41 attorneys general said the act would bring federal law into line with the laws of 49 states, including Rhode Island. They noted reporter shield laws have been adopted, through legislation or judicial decision, in every state but Wyoming. “An overwhelming consensus has developed among the states in support of this public policy,” they said. .... 

And yesterday spokesman Michael J. Healey said Lynch will not sign the letter in part because it deals with federal legislation. “Whether it’s enacted or not will have no bearing or effect on the state law of Rhode Island, the courts of Rhode Island or our office’s functioning,” he said.

Also, Healey said, “Unlike all but two other states, the Rhode Island attorney general also functions as district attorney,” so Rhode Island prosecutors bring many more criminal matters before grand juries than most attorneys general.

“Our position has nothing to do with First Amendment issues,” Healey said. “It’s simply about the propriety of a state that relies on the grand jury as much as we do telling the federal government how they should conduct grand juries. Our rationale is more based on jurisdictional issues than on philosophical issues. To be clear, we absolutely respect the work of journalists and how vital they are to our society.”

With its lack of county-based district attorneys, Rhode Island is an anomaly, and it's no surprise that Lynch would think first of jurisdictional issues and his constituency in law enforcement. Ultimately, though, the AG's is an unfortunate stance, particulary with his prominent leadership role in the national AGs' group.

The Judith Miller case showed how reporters claiming protection under a shield law are not always serving the public.

Ultimately, however -- and I think Jim Taricani, our late friend Jack White, and many of our colleagues would heartily agree -- the ability to protect confidential sources is vital for the public interest.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Not For Nothing Archives