Buchanan Trial Gets National Attention
It all started in the lobby of the Student Union on Sunday, May 22.
A couple of students approached Emerald Managing Editor Annette Buchanan. Why, they wanted to know, had recent Emerald stories on campus drug use been so anti-marijuana.
And could someone write a letter-to-the-editor responding to the statements which had appeared in the paper?
Miss Buchanan replied that the Emerald had not been consciously anti-marijuana but that she would see what could be done.
Later that evening, she went back across 13th Avenue to Allen Hall.
As Emerald Editor Phil Semas was proofreading an editorial page that included an endorsement of Charles O. Porter over Lane County District Attorney William Frye for the Fourth Congressional District Democratic nomination, she put the question to him.
“We don’t run unsigned columns,” he said, “but why don’t you interview some students about it?”
And so she did. She talked to seven students at a place she has refused to reveal.
She took the story in the next day and it appeared in the paper on Tuesday, May 24, election day, under the banner headline “Students Condone Marijuana Use.” Pseudonyms were used for the students.
Over a week later, on Wednesday, June 1, District Attorney William Frye, who had gone down to defeat by a narrow margin in that election, issued subpoenas for Miss Buchanan, Semas, former Emerald Editor Chuck Beggs, and former Managing Editor Bob Carl.
That night Frye sent a messenger to the Portland Oregonian with a copy of a press release and picture of himself reading the Emerald.
The story appeared in the Oregonian the next day with Frye stating that he wanted information from Miss Buchanan “as much to allay the concern of the public as to learn what we can about the sources of the drug on this campus and the extent of its use.”
Miss Buchanan’s response was swift and straightforward. “I just could not live with myself if I revealed their names,” she said. She knows the names of five of the seven she interviewed.
So the four appeared at the Lane County Courthouse that Friday, June 3. They now had an attorney, Arthur Johnson.
Miss Buchanan was the first to go before the Grand Jury. Frye got quickly to the point and asked for the names of the students she had interviewed. She refused to answer on five grounds:
• That she would be breaching the code of ethics of the journalism profession.
• That the information was a privileged communication to her as an employee of the state of Oregon (because of her salary as managing editor).
• That the questions were beyond the proper scope of inquiry of the Grand Jury.
• That requiring her to testify would be a violation of the federal and state constitutions, both of which guarantee freedom of the press.
• That she was not permitted legal counsel in the Grand Jury hearing.
Frye then took her across the hall to the court of Circuit Judge Edward Leavy and asked for a court order to force her to testify. Johnson secured a ten-day delay to prepare arguments.
Then Frye took her back across the hall and continued to ask questions.
One question, according to the official transcript, was, “If your roommate were sexually assaulted and murdered . . . and the persons responsible came to you and said, ‘I will tell you something very important, a very interesting story. If you promise not to use my name I will tell you about this murder.’
“Of course, out of curiosity you wanted to hear it, suppose you agreed, then this person told you ‘I did it.’ . . . Would you feel compelled not to disclose his name on the principles you mention?”
Miss Buchanan replied, according to the transcript, “That’s not a fair question.”
He asked similar questions of the other three editors but, since they said they didn’t know the names, he let them go.
On June 13 Miss Buchanan appeared before Leavy. Johnson offered essentially the same five arguments.
And for the first time he brought up the point that was to become a major theme in his arguments: he maintained Frye had made no showing that the information was absolutely essential and that it was available from other sources.
Frye’s arguments were short. He said there is no law giving reporters privilege in Oregon. Therefore, he argued, Miss Buchanan should be forced to testify.
When the two lawyers had completed their arguments, Leavy looked at Miss Buchanan and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “It is the order of the court that you answer the question I asked you.”
Miss Buchanan went back before the Grand Jury two days later and again refused to reveal the names of the five students, despite Leavy’s court order.
Again Frye took her across the hall and tried to get a quick ruling, this time a conviction for contempt of court.
And again Johnson was given additional time to prepare arguments.
By the time the trial actually began on June 27 the case had won national publicity and television, newspaper, and magazine reporters filled half the courtroom while photographers crowded around outside.
Again Frye’s argument was very short. Miss Buchanan had violated a court order. Therefore she was in contempt.
Johnson’s case took the rest of the day.
He called six professional journalists to the stand and all of them testified that they thought Miss Buchanan was acting in the best traditions of journalism and that confidential sources are often used by the press.
He reiterated those same five arguments, emphasizing freedom of the press especially. “You can’t have freedom of the press without freedom of information.”
And he pointed out again that Frye had not proved that the information was necessary to the administration of justice or that it was not otherwise available.
He also attempted to introduce the Emerald endorsement of Frye’s opponent, Charles O. Porter, in the primary, and evidence relative to the press release Frye issued when he subpoenaed Miss Buchanan and the other editors. Leavy ruled both out of order.
The next day in his hour-long final arguments Johnson injected another point.
He argued that to be found in contempt Miss Buchanan had to “willfully” violate the court’s order and bring disrespect or dishonor to the court.
“Annette Buchanan made a promise in good faith,” Johnson said, “all she has done is to steadfastly maintain that pledge. Nothing is more essential to the process of justice than honesty and integrity. Annette Buchanan’s word was her bond.”
Frye replied that it was “too simple” to plead the case on the basis of the First Amendment.
“No court has yet held that the First Amendment allows a reporter to withhold sources.” He also said there was no reason to grant privilege to journalists unless they are also given to other groups.
After Frye and Johnson had finished, Leavy said in the same matter-of-fact tone he had used when giving the court order, “It is the finding of the court that the respondent is in contempt.”
Leavy gave her the maximum $300 fine, but did not add a possible six month jail sentence.
Miss Buchanan paled slightly and dropped her head to her hand. Johnson leaned back and sighed.
After an unsuccessful request for a new trial—which Johnson had to argue on one day’s notice—Miss Buchanan has appealed the contempt conviction and the court order to the Oregon Supreme Court.
Frye has said many times since then—most recently to a newspaper publisher’ meeting last week—that the press ignored the key issue in the case and played it emotionally.
Most newspapers in the state and many around the nation have supported Miss Buchanan’s position. Frye maintains that the press treated both he and the court unfairly.
She’s still reading and trying to answer her mail, which is now over 700 letters.
Many of those letters contained money. The biggest contribution came right after the trial from William F. Knowland, publisher of the Oakland Tribune and a former United States senator. Knowland wired $300 right after the trial to pay either the fine or help finance an appeal.
Miss Buchanan’s defense fund is now at about $2,300—most of it from small donations.
Although few donations have come in from the nation’s press or the state press, a major boost to that fund may come from the United States Student Press Association, which voted this summer to commend Miss Buchanan’s position and to raise funds among the nation’s student press.
She has been besieged with speaking engagements and offers to write her story by various publications. She’s fending off most of the writing requests—at least for the time being.
“I just want to go back to school,” she said after the case. Because the grand jury investigation fell during spring term finals she still has eight hours incomplete to make up. And there is her work on the Emerald, where she is still managing editor until May 1.
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