- Jana Winter used confidential sources to report details of 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting
- Suspect James Holmes' attorneys demanded that she reveal those sources
- A New York appeals court said she would not have to reveal her sources
Jana Winter, a Fox News reporter who had been facing the threat of jail time for refusing to reveal her confidential sources, said Wednesday that she was grateful that New York's highest court had protected her through a 4-3 ruling the previous day.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Winter, whose sources for a story about the accused Aurora, Colorado, movie theater gunman James Holmes were pursued by Holmes' attorneys, would not be compelled to return to Colorado to testify in Holmes' trial.
The appeals court ruling, which cited the state's shield law for journalists, was a setback for Holmes' attorneys and a significant victory for Winter, Fox News and the wide array of news organizations and journalism advocates that had supported her in the case.
Winter, a reporter for FoxNews.com who is based in New York, was seeking to protect her sources for a July 25, 2012 article titled "Movie massacre suspect sent chilling notebook to psychiatrist before attack." The existence of the notebook and the contents of it (an unnamed source was quoted as saying that it was "full of details about how he was going to kill people," including "drawings and illustrations of the massacre") triggered headlines and leak investigations because officials such as Holmes' psychiatrist had been barred from speaking to the media about him.
Two lower courts had ruled in Holmes' favor, raising the prospect that Winter would be found in contempt of court and sentenced to jail indefinitely. In an interview on the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, she reiterated her previous statements that she would have gone to jail to protect her sources.
"I promised my sources I would keep their identities confidential and would have ended up having to go to jail to do so," she said.
Winter, who looked shaken up in the interview, said she was still trying to process Tuesday's ruling in her favor. "I'm just so grateful that New York understands the importance of confidential sources and news gathering," she said.
A Fox News spokeswoman declined a CNN request to interview Winter. In an interview with the Web site Mediaite, she said she had advice for other journalists who might find themselves and their confidential sources pursued by attorneys in the future: "Call me."
The so-called shield law in New York is widely believed to be the most advantageous in the country for journalists -- certainly more so than the version of the law in Colorado.
In Tuesday's ruling, Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote for the appeals court that "New York public policy provides a mantle of protection for those who gather and report the news -- and their confidential sources -- that has been recognized as the strongest in the nation. And safeguarding the anonymity of those who provide information in confidence is perhaps the core principle of New York's journalistic privilege, as is evident from our colonial tradition, the constitutional text and the legislative history of the shield law."
Roger Ailes, the chief executive of Fox News, called the court ruling a "major win for all journalists."
"The protection of Jana Winter's confidential sources was necessary to preserve and protect journalism and democracy itself in my view," Ailes said in a statement on Tuesday. "So the highest court in New York did the right thing."