SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The public will soon learn what information San Francisco police used to seize a reporter’s phone records in violation of California’s journalist shield law after an 11-page warrant was ordered unsealed Thursday.
“The search warrant will be unsealed with the exception of one portion,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East said in court.
One paragraph of the 11-page warrant must be blacked out to protect the identity of a confidential police informant. The unsealed file will be released by July 23 at 10 a.m. to attorneys for three press advocacy groups and a freelance journalist whose home was raided by police.
Freelance reporter Bryan Carmody’s house was ransacked in May by San Francisco police, who seized his computers, cameras and phones as part an investigation into the source of leaked details about the death of late San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Adachi was with a woman other than his wife when he collapsed and later after died Feb. 22.
On Thursday, Judge East said she did not know Carmody had a press pass issued by the San Francisco Police Department when she signed the warrant to search his phone records on March 1.
“I think it’s very disturbing that she didn’t know,” said Carmody’s attorney Thomas Burke, of Davis Wright Tremaine, after the hearing Thursday.
Duffy Carolan, an attorney for three press advocacy groups that asked to unseal the warrant, said she was not surprised to learn the judge didn’t know Carmody was journalist when the warrant was signed.
“It’s important for the public to understand what information was offered to the court,” Carolan said.
Carolan represents the First Amendment Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Burke called it “outrageous” that police were able to see every telephone number Carmody called, who called and texted him, and where and when he used his phone.
These kinds of police actions, Burke said, make it impossible for journalists to do their job. No source will give information to journalists if police can monitor their phones and raid their homes, he said.
“It affects every single journalist,” Burke said, adding the situation calls for a “wholesale review of the process that led to these search warrants.”
Also on Thursday, East granted a motion to quash the warrant for Carmody’s phone records. As a result, all information obtained pursuant to the warrant will be destroyed. The police department must submit a sworn affidavit indicating the information was destroyed and that nothing learned from the seizure of phone records will be used for any reason.
Carmody has filed motions to quash four other outstanding warrants. The next court hearing is scheduled for July 26.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott publicly apologized for the raid in May, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that police “should have done a better job.”
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.