Protest filed with judge over newspaper reporter's testimony

SHELTON, Wash. (AP) - The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association filed a letter of protest Thursday after a Shelton-Mason County Journal reporter was called to testify during pretrial hearing in a murder case.

The complaint was filed by association director Bill Will with Mason County Superior Court Judge Amber Finlay hours after reporter Natalie Johnson was brought to the witness stand with no prior notice. Johnson was not named on witness lists or served with a formal subpoena before being called to testify by Tacoma defense attorney Brett Purtzer.

Johnson was questioned about her journalism and newsgathering background during the hearing on a change-of-venue motion in the case of Charles Longshore, who is charged in the murder of two people in Shelton last year.

Will said the incident "was a clear violation of Washington's reporter shield law, which gives journalists broad immunity from being compelled to testify in court proceedings."

In the letter sent to Finlay, Will said it was "troubling" that Johnson was brought to the stand without any objection from the judge or Mason County Prosecutor Michael Dorcy, and that he hoped that in the future, journalists' constitutional rights are respected by the court.

Dorcy told The Associated Press that he was surprised when Purtzer called Johnson to the stand, especially since there had been prior discussions about there being no witnesses that day. He said it all happened so quickly that he didn't even think to object based on the shield law.

"I apologize for not thinking of it," he said. "It wasn't something I had dealt with before. Lesson learned."

Purtzer and Finlay did not return phone messages Thursday seeking comment.