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Journalist who spent record time in jail freed

A freelance videographer who has been jailed longer than any other journalist in U.S. history for refusing to testify to a grand jury is expected to be freed, his attorneys said Tuesday.
Joshua Wolf
Freelance videographer Joshua Wolf speaks to the media after being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif., on Tuesday.Ben Margot / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A freelance videographer walked out of federal prison Tuesday after spending more time behind bars than any other journalist for refusing to testify to a grand jury.

Joshua Wolf, 24, in a deal with prosecutors, posted online the unaired videotape that he had refused to give federal authorities, defense lawyer David Greene said. U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who had jailed Wolf for 226 days, had approved his release earlier in the day.

“Joshua Wolf has complied with the grand jury subpoena,” prosecutor Jeffrey Finigan said in court papers filed Tuesday.

Wolf spent more than seven months in a federal prison in Dublin, Calif. after refusing to obey a subpoena to turn over his videotape of a chaotic 2005 San Francisco street protest during the G-8 summit.

The government is investigating how a San Francisco police officer’s skull was fractured during the melee and who set a police car on fire.

The footage Wolf posted Tuesday does not show those events, Greene said.

Prosecutors said they were not inclined to seek his grand jury testimony, though they left open the possibility that he could be subpoenaed again later.

“I will not under any circumstances testify before a grand jury,” Wolf said as he left the prison. An unshaven Wolf, wearing a white T-shirt and sweat shorts, said he was looking forward to “pizza and a beer.”

Lawyers argued First Amendment protection
Wolf’s lawyers had argued that the First Amendment gave him the right to refuse the subpoena for unaired video.

The judge, however, cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the U.S. Constitution does not entitle reporters, or anybody else, to withhold confidential sources or unpublished material from a grand jury investigation or criminal trial.

No federal shield law protects reporters, unlike California’s shield law, which allows reporters to keep sources and unpublished material secret.

Wolf’s incarceration time surpassed that of Vanessa Leggett, a Houston freelancer who served 168 days in 2001 and 2002 for refusing to reveal unpublished material about a murder case.

The National Writer’s Union, which represents freelance writers, said in a statement that Wolf should never have been jailed.

“The abuses visited on Josh and other journalists are part of an effort by governments at all levels to control the volume, flow and content of the information that reaches the public,” the union said.