Journalist is not obliged to testify in US case

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

THE HIGH Court has ruled that a journalist and a director of a charitable organisation do not have to give evidence as part of a multimillion dollar lawsuit in the US involving businessman Tony Quinn.

In a case that raised issues concerning the protection of journalists’ sources, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan yesterday set aside orders requiring Sunday World reporter Nicola Tallant and Mike Garde, a director of Dialogue Ireland, to give evidence before an Irish lawyer in Dublin as part of court proceedings in Denver, Colorado.

The US action arises from the sale of shares in International Natural Energy (INE) LLC, the holding company of a firm involved in oil exploration in Central America. Mr Quinn is a shareholder of the company.

Former INE director Jean Cornec has sued INE, its chairwoman Susan Morrice and the firm’s directors and affiliates as he claims he has not been paid in full for a $15 million sale of his shares in the firm to NI-born Ms Morrice.

The claims are denied and, in a counterclaim, the defendants allege that Mr Cornec breached their contract of sale by engaging in wrongful conduct. Mr Cornec denies those allegations.

As part of the proceedings, due to be heard next January, lawyers for the defendants in the US case secured orders from a court in Denver, Colorado, requesting the High Court in Ireland to order that Ms Tallant and Mr Garde be deposed as witnesses in the US lawsuit, claiming they had evidence relevant to their counterclaim.

Both Ms Tallant and Mr Garde, who have written articles about Mr Quinn, resisted any order compelling them to give evidence on grounds including journalistic privilege, that their evidence was irrelevant and that compelling them to give evidence was oppressive.

Lawyers for Ms Morrice had argued that journalistic privilege did not apply in this case. It was claimed the sources were already known as parties in the US had already admitted in depositions that they had communicated with Ms Tallant and Mr Garde.

Mr Justice Hogan said he accepted that Mr Garde and Ms Tallant’s evidence was relevant and he dismissed their claims that the request to depose them was “oppressive”. However, he was not prepared to order them to give evidence on the grounds that they were being asked to reveal sources.

Ms Tallant, he said, had argued that there was a strong interest in publishing material concerning Mr Quinn and the affairs of INE.

Mr Justice Hogan said that “if, as she maintains, Mr Quinn holds unorthodox religious views and is effectively the leader of a religious cult which has used psychological techniques as a means of controlling gullible adherents, the media are entitled to educate public opinion in this regard.”

Mr Justice Hogan said that after weighing all the relevant factors, he was satisfied that the case compelling Ms Tallant to give evidence had not been “convincingly established”. Given that she would be asked to identify sources of her work, which she could decline to answer if put to her in an Irish court, Mr Justice Hogan said that he was declining to order that she be compelled to give evidence in the US proceedings.

In respect of Mr Garde, he ruled that he, too, was entitled to assert an immunity from having to give evidence.