Supreme Court rejects reporter's case against city's former police spokesman

October 06, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Supreme Court refused yesterday to review a ruling against a Baltimore journalist who sued the city's former Police Department spokesman over access to governmental information.

The court rejected an appeal by Terrie Snyder without comment and refused to revive her 1995 suit against Samuel Ringgold, the department's former public affairs director.

Snyder, a free-lance reporter for the City Paper, called the decision "outrageous and truly frightening."

"By refusing to consider this case, the court has said that it's all right for government officials to discriminate and turn down requests for information from reporters who don't report what's to their liking," Snyder said.

But Ringgold, who resigned last year to take a private sector public relations job, said Snyder never had grounds to sue.

"Am I pleased? Yes," Ringgold said. "I thought from the beginning that this is a case that is going nowhere. It went a lot farther than I anticipated. But it is clear that she didn't have a case."

Snyder was working for WBAL-TV in 1992 when she reported that the Police Department might have attempted to cover up a politician's connection to the death of a young man.

Snyder said that Ringgold told her that she had "set him up" for the story and she had trouble obtaining information from him after that.

Snyder said Ringgold's actions went beyond feeding stories to favorite reporters. He cut off her access to information he shared with other journalists and wrote a letter in 1994 to the television station's news director complaining about her reporting, she said.

"This was an attempt, a very vicious attempt, to get rid of a reporter he did not like," she said.

Snyder sued Ringgold in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in 1995, contending that he had violated her First Amendment rights by denying her the access given other journalists.

A federal judge here ruled for Snyder, but a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., unanimously reversed that decision in January.

The appeals court said that Ringgold was entitled to qualified immunity because without it, public officials would be prevented from granting exclusive interviews and could be forced to speak to reporters they viewed as untrustworthy.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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