Jacksonville newspaper fights to keep reporter from being subpoenaed in illegal taping case

A Jacksonville newspaper reporter is a key player in the illegal taping case involving Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and the paper is trying to block prosecutors from questioning the reporter. Carletha Cole, a former aide to Carroll, is charged with secretly recording a conversation she had with Carroll’s former chief of staff and giving a tape of the meeting to the reporter, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The Times-Union posted the recording on its website and Cole was eventually charged with a Florida third-degree felony and faces up to five years in prison. In the state of Florida, both parties must be aware of any recording and provide consent that allows them to be recorded. Journalists have some protection when it comes to being subpeonead in cases they are reporting on, but that state says in this case reporter Matt Dixon is crucial to the case. Dixon is the one Cole gave the tape to – which is how the secret recording ended up going public – and the newspaper reported that investigators say they have email records that show Dixon and Cole discussing the recording.

The judge has already denied one request to keep someone from questioning in the case. That was Carroll herself after Gov. Rick Scott tried to keep attorneys from questioning her. But the judge denied the request last week, saying Cole has a right to defend herself. The judge did want criminal defense attorneys to specifically say why they need to speak with Carroll and detail the purpose of the questioning. It will be interesting to see if the judge makes a similar ruling on the newspaper reporter. Media companies will always fight having one of their journalists questioned, fearing the precedent it could set in having reporters dragged into every case they write about, simply for doing their jobs. Newspaper executives say potential whistleblowers could shy away from giving information to a news organization if they know that reporter may end up on the witness stand talking about the information he or she gave.

In most Jacksonville criminal cases, it is unlikely a reporter will end up having to testify. In many cases, it appears to be more for show than anything. It’s likely part of the strategic back-and-forth between the state and the criminal defense team. If the defense wants to put the lieutenant governor on the stand, the state will try for the reporter. This case is an example of some of the preparations and behind-the-scenes work an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney does on a case before it ends up in a trial – if it ever does. Both sides are always looking for an edge, especially as it gets closer to trial or a plea negotiation.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.