Courts & Crime

Judge sides with reporter in case of wrongly convicted teen

A Western Washington University journalism assistant professor just got some major protection from a federal judge, and she's calling it a win for all reporters.

Carolyn Nielsen will not have to turn over information about her reporting on a story about a 13-year-old boy convicted of murder and sent to prison for 50 years who has since been exonerated, in part, because of her stories.

The ruling came Wednesday, Aug. 18, from Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Pechman ruled that the documents were protected by media shield laws, because circuit courts have not differentiated professional journalists from student journalists.

Shield laws are meant to protect freedom of the press by preventing the forced disclosure of sources, notes or other information.

Nielsen also was given a protective order from future depositions and was awarded her attorney costs and fees.

"I'm thrilled at the result, which I see not only as a positive for me personally, but as a win for journalists who are still in the field and for the students I teach who hope to be journalists someday," Nielsen said via e-mail.

Nielsen was fighting a subpoena for all notes and correspondence between her and Thaddius "TJ" Jimenez, who has since been freed from prison.

Media across the country have picked up his story, as well as that of Nielsen, who has since become his friend.

Jimenez went free after help from Northwestern University's Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions, which decided to work on his case after receiving a letter from him saying he had been framed.

Initially, there was little for pro-bono lawyers working on his behalf to go on, until they found the articles of a student journalist at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. That happened to be Nielsen, then a graduate student.

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