Knox County Mayor Dislikes Story, Subpoenas News Sentinel to Finger Sources

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Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has garnered national recognition for his trail-blazing, Boner Award-worthy maneuver to skirt Tennessee's "journalist protection" laws, which should both surprise you (journalists have protections?) and cause a mild case of irritable bowel syndrome over the man's audacious thirst for sweet, delicious revenge.

On his blog, Jim Romenesko details Burchett's attempt to subpoena the Knoxville News Sentinel for "sign-in sheets for every visitor ... [and] all video-tapes or other video recorded medium containing surveillance of the front entrance, visitor parking area, and other parking areas adjacent to the visitor parking, and/or lobby between May 15, 2012, and June 24, 2012."

To wit: The News Sentinel reported last month that Burchett's wife Allison (who filed for divorce in April) paid herself $15,053.56 from the campaign's coffers for undisclosed "reimbursements" that failed to appear on campaign disclosure forms. So Burchett decided to get creative with the law and subpoena the newspaper in order to finger the individual(s) who leaked the information.

From News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy:

Obviously the mayor wants to know who provided the newspaper with records from the Elect Burchett checking account, which revealed more than $15,000 in checks written to the mayor's wife that were not listed on the mayor's campaign disclosure report, plus a check for more than $4,000 written to the mayor's wife that was listed as a reimbursement for paying a company that says it did not do any work for the Burchett campaign.

Tennessee has a law that protects journalists from having to reveal anonymous sources. This subpoena, crafted by the mayor's divorce attorney, Al Harb, is a novel attempt to get around that "reporter shield" law. Rick Hollow, the News Sentinel's lawyer, can find no record of any similar maneuver in Tennessee, and I've never heard of any politician trying this elsewhere in the nation either.

Needless to say, we'll be fighting this subpoena vigorously.

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