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First Amendment Fray in San Francisco

Super Lawyers

When the San Francisco Police Department raided freelance journalist Bryan Carmody’s home in May and seized his reporting equipment and materials, press advocates were outraged. San Francisco attorneys Ben Berkowitz and Thomas R. Burke are representing Carmody in his battle with the police department.

Before the raid, SFPD Chief William Scott had suggested Carmody was involved in a conspiracy to obtain a leaked police report about the death of the late Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s former public defender. The PD had obtained warrants to search and seize items from Carmody’s home. After the firestorm over the raid, Scott apologized, and Mayor London Breed ordered an independent investigation of police actions in this case.

Notes Berkowitz, who practices business and intellectual property litigation at Keker, Van Nest & Peters and is representing Bryan pro bono, “The First Amendment and the California Shield Law categorically prohibit what Chief Scott and the SFPD did in this case—the Shield Law protects the identity of journalists’ confidential sources. Period.

“Chief Scott and the SFPD need to know that journalists won’t be intimidated. They need to know that lawyers and law firms like ours will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with journalists when they’re illegally targeted and surveilled by the government. The SFPD’s actions are an assault on the free press and are plainly unlawful under the First Amendment and California’s Shield Law.”

The San Francisco Police Officers Association has called for Chief Scott’s resignation.

“We’re living in a really troubling and alarming time for journalists in this country. We’re witnessing daily assaults by people in power on the journalistic profession. We need to make sure that one thing journalists never get used to is raids of their homes and offices by armed police officers looking to uncover confidential sources. I’m deeply troubled by the San Francisco Police Department’s decision to raid a journalist’s home. The principle that’s at stake is one that’s fundamental to our democracy. The press must be free to investigate and report without fear of police intimidation. That’s the principle we are fighting for and the statement we’re hoping to send to the San Francisco Police Department.”

Read the complete article here.