09:26 AM

2.14.07: Wolf case goes to settlement conf - An interview with Josh's lawyer

After months of denying jailed videojournalist Josh Wolf's motions for release, Federal Judge William Alsup issued an order referring the case to a US magistrate, the SF Chronicle reports.

Without a request from either side, the judge handed the matter over to US Magistrate Joseph Spero (illustration via Law.com) to attempt a settlement. I talked to Josh's lawyer, Dan Siegel, about this development and the other aspects of the case.

"I don't really know where this came from," Siegel said. "It's a surprising and welcome development. No one on Josh's defense team has had any kind of secret negotations with the court. I hope no one from the prosecutions has either."

So does going before this magistrate improve the odds of Josh's release? "It should but I just dont know," Siegel said. "I'm not trying to be wiley here; it's completely unclear to me what the court may be thinking or what the US attorney may be thinking. He called Josh a 'so called journalist' and 'delusional.' "

It's hard to understand why the US attorney would make such aspersions, I said, since his status as a journalist is not at issue. There is no reporter's shield law in the federal system, so whether he is or isn't is immaterial.

The Justice Department under Bush has been very disrespectful of the role of journalists. It leads to abuses as in this case. This case has so many points where the government's actions appear to be reckless: the trivial nature of the offense involved, the lack of showing that Josh has (material evidene), the willingness to criticize an individual and attack his status as journalist.

Siegel said that the prosecution has been dropped against the individual charged with attacking a police officer in the melee, so that the need for Josh's video - never compelling - is now virtually gone. "One thing that is apparent is that the US attorney is assisting the San Francisco district attorney in doing an end-run around the California Shield. They couldn't bring this case in state court because of the reporter's shield.

The defense has offered to have the judge review the disk to determine if there is any relevant information on it. Indeed, this is standard procedure for any contested evidence, but "the judge has ducked the issue," Siegel said.

In a profile of Spero, Law.com quotes longtime friend Jan Little:

"Joe was plenty firm and efficient," Little said. "But what I liked was that he spoke to prosecutors and defense lawyers, defendants, girlfriends of defendants, probation officers and marshals all in the same direct, honest and comfortable way that is so Joe -- a calm talk that reaches people."