Floyd won't let plaintiff's lawyer grill reporters

Ann Knef May 1, 2007, 4:00am

Attorney Brent Coon

Jefferson County District Judge Donald Floyd has ruled in favor of the Southeast Texas Record, denying plaintiff's attorney Brent Coon's demand to question its editor and reporter.

On Monday afternoon, Floyd also denied Coon's motion to hold both editorial staffers in contempt of court.

Coon had asked the judge to hold editor Marilyn Tennissen and reporter David Yates in contempt for their failure to appear for depositions at his law office April 20.

"We're very pleased that Judge Floyd sided with the newspaper's First Amendment privilege," said Gregory Coleman, an attorney for the Record.

At a hearing last week, Coon had argued otherwise, claiming Tennissen and Yates are not journalists and the Record is not a newspaper.

"Ms. Tennissen and Mr. Yates are not credible newspersons doing the good work of the press," Coon said.

That, he said, limited their First Amendment protection.

He asked Floyd to order Tennissen and Yates to perform 40 hours of community service in the cancer ward of a Veterans Administration hospital, to "sensitize" them. He also asked Floyd to send them back to school for a college course in journalism ethics.

Coon sought to depose Tennissen and Yates to discover whether they tampered with potential jurors in an asbestos trial he had proceeding in court. The case, however, settled before it reached trial.

He had alleged that they gave newspapers to potential jurors April 2.

"They try to contaminate public opinion," Coon said. "That is what this newspaper has done. That is the mission of this propaganda sheet."

At the hearing, Coleman told Floyd, "Picking and choosing among First Amendment speakers is not a legitimate undertaking."

Coleman said the contempt motion was driven by Coon's animosity toward the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, indirect owner of the Record.

"All newspapers have owners," Coleman said. "All newspapers have editorials bents. This is personal."

Steve Korris contributed to this report.

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