District Attorney withdraws subpoena

Another attempt by the Orange County District Attorney to force the Saddleback College Lariat student newspaper to surrender information in a criminal case has been lifted.

For now.

A week-old subpoena issued to the Lariat seeking all notes, records and unedited video footage of an alleged assault on a campus safety officer was withdrawn Monday (May 12). Attorney Robyn Aronson confirmed the action in a telephone conversation with Editor-in-Chief Cerise Ostrem. Aronson represents the Lariat on behalf of the Student Press Law Center.

The subpoena was issued May 5 by Orange County Assistant District Attorney Autumn Major. It required materials to be hand-delivered or mailed within five days of service of the subpoena, which was dated May. 1.

According to Ostrem, Aronson said Major was too preoccupied with events of the case to pursue the order. But Major told Aronson she retains the right to issue additional subpoenas in the near-future. It is unclear what that means.

“I don’t see the point of carrying this out any longer,” Ostrem said. “We’re clearly within our rights as journalists. The Shield Law was established for cases like this.”

The most-recent subpoena was the second in a series of attempts seeking to gain possession of unpublished information collected by the Lariat in the course of reporting on a series of news stories. It was collected by Lariat staff members during a breaking event April 9 involving an alleged incident between Saddleback student Zach Chanoski and Saddleback Campus Police Officer Santos Garcia.

An article, pictures and video of Garcia’s attempt to arrest Chanoski as he resisted were posted on the newspaper’s Web site. Video footage was edited in part to remove graphic language and racial slurs from Chanoski.

Ostrem said she was first pressured in a telephone call to release the unedited video, April 23. She said she denied the request by Saddleback Chief-of-Police Harry Parmer. She cited the California Shield Law.

The Shield Law was established to protect journalists from being forced to disclose unnamed sources and unpublished information. It defines the role of the journalist as a news-gatherer, separate from litigation.

On May 1, a subpoena requesting unedited video was issued in response by District Attorney Johanna Kim. It was directed to Lariat staff member Bill Bridgeford, who later told Kim he neither shot, was in possession of, or knew the location of the footage. Kim told Bridgeford the subpoena would be quashed.

Chanoski, who continues to make contact with the Lariat via email and phone messages, is due back in court Thursday (May 15) at 9 a.m. at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. He is prohibited from entering the Saddleback campus, college officials have said.

Related stories:

Lariat receives subpoena in assault case:


Second arrest for Saddleback student:


Student charged with assaulting cop: