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Keker, Van Nest & Peters Secures First Amendment Reforms to the San Francisco Police Department’s Warrant Process on Behalf of Journalist Bryan Carmody

Press Release

Keker, Van Nest & Peters’ Ben Berkowitz and Nic Marais have obtained an important settlement on behalf of Bryan Carmody, a journalist whose reporting materials were seized in an illegal raid on his home by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) last May. In addition to paying Mr. Carmody $369,000 to settle his claims, the City of San Francisco and the SFPD have also committed to enhanced protections for San Francisco’s journalists: the City has agreed to amend its General Orders concerning “special circumstances” warrants and subpoenas, and the SFPD has agreed to put procedures in place to ensure that police comply with California’s Shield Law, which protects journalists’ ability to keep their sources and materials confidential.

“This settlement is an important victory for journalists and the people of San Francisco. The City and SFPD have agreed to provide new training and procedures to ensure that the SFPD respects the First Amendment and the California Shield Law,” said Ben Berkowitz. “The City’s agreement to these terms means that all law enforcement employees are to be properly trained on California’s Shield Law and the procedures necessary to protect the rights of a free press to report on government actions without fear of unconstitutional surveillance or interference. This is an important step for San Francisco and the SFPD in ensuring these types of attacks on the press aren’t repeated.”

The raid of Mr. Carmody’s home and office stemmed from an investigation into a leaked police report on the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Mr. Carmody had been reporting on the circumstances of Mr. Adachi’s death and was provided with a copy of the leaked report by a confidential source. As part of the SFPD’s efforts to unmask Mr. Carmody’s source, they sought warrants for Mr. Carmody’s phone records, and to search his home and office. Those warrants were illegal. Between July and August 2019, five judges from the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that each of the warrants used against Mr. Carmody violated his rights as a journalist to protect the identity of his sources.

“Our firm is committed to combating attacks on the free press. Protecting journalists’ constitutional rights is critical to ensuring the free flow of information upon which our society relies,” added Nic Marais. “The SFPD and the City have agreed to enact meaningful changes and to ensure that their investigations comply with state and federal law. This settlement is justice not just for Bryan, but for everyone in his profession.”

About Keker, Van Nest & Peters

For more than 40 years, Keker, Van Nest & Peters has litigated complex, high-stakes civil and criminal cases throughout the nation. The firm takes the cases where companies, products, and careers are riding on the result. Its clients are high-profile individuals, as well as some of the world’s most successful companies, including Google, Facebook, Electronic Arts, Lyft, Genentech, Comcast, and Qualcomm. The firm’s areas of expertise include intellectual property, professional liability, class actions, general contract and commercial litigation, antitrust, white collar, and appellate.