Score one for Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) in his decade-long legal battle with House majority leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH).
A federal appeals court has agreed to hear new arguments in a case involving an illegally taped telephone call leaked to reporters by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
In an announcement late Monday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said all nine judges will hear McDermott’s appeal of the taped call case, which dates back nearly a decade. Arguments will be heard in September, the court said.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in March that McDermott violated federal law by turning over the tape recording of a 1996 call involving then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
In granting a new hearing the appeals court vacated the panel’s 2-1 ruling that ordered McDermott to pay Boehner $60,000 in damages and over $600,000 in legal fees.
McDermott tends to spark a lot of emotion from both sides the political spectrum, and thus most people seem to approach this case from a partisan perspective. Republicans would be thrilled to see one of their most outspoken critics punitively pushed into bankruptcy by this case, while many Democrats defend McDermott as a whistle-blower who exposed Gingrich’s double-dealing and ultimately led to his resignation.
But the issue at stake here is really much more fundamental; it is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I for one receive unsolicited information all the time — sometimes anonymously — and I can never be sure of its provenance. If McDermott ultimately loses his case it means I could be sued or prosecuted for publishing information that may have been obtained illegally, even if I had no part in, or even knowledge of the crime.
Wanna put me out of business? Slip me an illegally obtained legal document and then sue away. Imagine the chilling effect if journalists, bloggers and private citizens risked financial ruin for passing on information of vital public interest.
Here’s hoping that both McDermott and the Constitution prevail.