Reporter's lawyer argues for overturning Cueto subpoena

Amelia Flood May 21, 2009, 12:20pm

MOUNT VERNON - A lawyer for the Belleville News-Democrat on Wednesday asked appellate court justices to overturn an order compelling a reporter to submit to a deposition in a lawsuit filed by disbarred attorney Amiel Cueto.

Joseph Martineau of St. Louis argued that George Pawlaczyk is protected by Illinois reporter shield laws and the state's Special Witness Doctrine.

Cueto wants Pawlaczyk's testimony for a suit he has pending against the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Illinois Civil Justice League and that organization's political action committee, JUSTPAC.

Cueto sued in early 2007 alleging that he was placed in a false light by a JUSTPAC 2006 campaign advertisement against his brother, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto.

That advertisement, as well as a Tribune editorial and a Post-Dispatch article also challenged in the lawsuit, alluded to purported testimony from federal criminal trials in the 1990s of Amiel Cueto and a former client, respectively. Pawlaczyk covered those trials for the News-Democrat.

In January 2008, Randolph County Associate Judge Richard Brown, who was presiding over Cueto's lawsuit at the time, found Pawlaczyk in contempt for refusing to give a deposition. However, Brown stayed a $10 fine he ordered until the appeal is decided.

Cueto argued that he would not be deposing Pawlaczyk as a reporter but rather over information he might have as a private person that relates to his case. This information, Cueto told the judges, was vital to his case.

"All I want is my day in court," Cueto said. "These lies have consequences. I'm living proof of that."

Martineau argued that Pawlaczyk's actions for gathering information for articles he wrote were protected by state laws.

When questioned by Fifth District Appellate Justices Bruce Stewart and Stephen Spomer about whether he was simply challenging the subpoena on relevancy, Martineau agreed that the desired deposition testimony was irrelevant and would not lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Martineau also told the judges that his client had been operating as a reporter and as such, he was entitled to the heightened protection enjoyed by reporters under both the state's shield law and Special Witness Doctrine.

The Special Witness Doctrine requires that parties wishing to depose reporters must show how that testimony is necessary to their case and how it can't be obtained from other sources. He argued that Cueto could gather evidence of the statements he challenged from sources, such as court documents.

Martineau cautioned the judges to be leery of relaxing legal protection for reporters. He stressed that Cueto's attempt to depose Pawlaczyk was the first deposition to be taken in the case.

Stewart and Spomer were joined by Fourth District Appellate Justice Thomas Appleton. The Court took the matter under advisement.

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Belleville News-Democrat
120 S Illinois St
Belleville, IL 62220-2130

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