Author Vanessa Leggett tried unsuccessfully this week to persuade a lower court to release her from jail while she fights a contempt charge for refusing to divulge confidential research to a grand jury.
Author Vanessa Leggett, who has spent 119 days in jail for refusing to divulge her book research to a grand jury, will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to free her.
Her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said he and Leggett decided to appeal to the high court after the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.) refused this week to reconsider her case and declined to release her on bond pending exhaustion of her appeals.
Federal prosecutors want to see more than four years' worth of research Leggett had gathered for a book she planned to write about a high-profile Houston murder. A federal district judge held her in contempt in July for refusing to turn over the research.
Leggett has been incarcerated since July 20 in the Federal Detention Center in Houston.
Subpoenaing Leggett's research was the easiest way for prosecutors to investigate the murder, DeGeurin said.
"From July until now they've had time to talk to everybody she talked to and to do their own independent investigation, and they probably don't have a need for the information," DeGeurin said.
Leggett, a free-lance writer, has claimed a reporter's privilege to prevent the disclosure of the confidential research. But a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled in August that regardless of whether Leggett is considered a journalist, there is no reporter's privilege that would allow her to refuse to testify and withhold research from a grand jury. The full appellate court let that ruling stand on Nov. 13.
DeGeurin said he will argue to the Supreme Court that the federal district judge should have balanced the federal prosecutors' need for the information against the public's interest in a free press.
The case has serious implications for the status of a reporters privilege in Texas. Texas has no shield law and no legal precedent for the proposition that the circuit does not respect a constitutional reporters privilege. Several media attorneys contacted about the case were fearful that Leggett's case could set a bad legal precedent in the state.
Leggett, who lectures at a local college, is a writer. She was working on a book on the death of a Houston woman, Doris Angleton, who was found shot to death in April 1997. Angleton's millionaire bookie husband Robert Angleton and his brother, Roger, were charged in the case. Roger committed suicide in the Harris County, Texas jail in February 1998. A state court jury acquitted Robert, and a federal investigation of Roger soon followed.
Leggett had interviews from dozens of people surrounding the case, and it has been reported that she interviewed Roger before his death.