‘News’ successfully quashes subpoena for a reporter in ‘hero cop’ Peter Figoski murder case

The 'Daily News' reporting on Figoski's memorial service. ()
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The Daily News has successfully quashed a subpoena issued to one of its former reporters, who was being called to testify in the murder trial of slain NYPD officer Peter Figoski, Capital has learned.

Chief Brooklyn homicide prosecutor Kenneth Taub, who is leading the case against five suspects charged in the December 2011 slaying of the "hero cop," had sought the testimony of Kevin Deutsch, who conducted a candid jailhouse interview with one of the men. A story about the interview was published in the News days after Figoski was killed.

Taub claimed putting Deutsch on the stand would be essential to securing the conviction of accused getaway driver Michael Velez, according to sources familiar with the subpoena, which an attorney for the News received on Wednesday.

But News attorney Matthew Leish filed a motion to quash the subpoena based on New York's shield law, which protects journalists from disclosing information obtained in the process of news gathering. In court on Friday, a source with knowledge of the proceedings told Capital, a judge sided with the News.

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In the Dec. 16, 2011 News interview, Velez admitted to Deutsch that he was aware Figoski's accused killer, Lamont Pride, was carrying a gun as they rode in a car just before the botched robbery that led to the veteran officer's murder. Velez also claimed he didn't know what was about to happen and that Pride “pointed a gun at me and said to keep going. ... I had no choice.”

Jerry Schmetterer, director of public information for the Kings County District Attorney, declined to comment Thursday on what the prosecutor hoped to gain from Deutsch's testimony. Deutsch, who now works for Newsday, referred Capital to the News attorney, who did not respond to requests for comment.

"The Daily News does not comment on matters in litigation," a spokesman for the paper told Capital Thursday, prior to the hearing.

Reporters for the tabloids and other papers routinely conduct jailhouse interviews. Under such sourcing agreements, the interview subjects are generally speaking with the expectation that their remarks may be published, but not that the reporter might later be compelled to testify against them.

Reversing those expectations is one thing that bothers some First Amendment experts about subpoenas like the one issued for Deutsch.

"The press is supposed to investigate independently and not be touched by government intervention, so the idea that a reporter can sit down with an interviewee and learn information that can then be taken by a prosecutor is problematic," said Kate Bolger, a First Amendment lawyer for the Manhattan media-law firm LSKS. "The press is not an arm of the state."

But the application of New York's shield law in such cases can nonetheless be tricky, said Bolger.

While the law offers blanket protection for any and all confidential information obtained during newsgathering, it enables the courts to seek disclosure for information that is "not obtainable from any alternative source."

Deutsch was not the first tabloid reporter to find himself in this predicament.

In 2007, New York Post reporter Doug Montero was subpoenaed to testify in New York State Supreme Court about a jailhouse interview. In that case, a motion to quash the subpoena was granted.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated to reflect the results of the subpoena hearing.