- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

DETROIT | A federal judge ruled that a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter can be questioned about unidentified sources he used in a 2004 story about an ethics investigation into a high-ranking federal prosecutor who handled a botched terrorism case.

David Ashenfelter of the Detroit Free Press claimed a reporter’s privilege in resisting the subpoena.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled late last month that there’s no privilege in civil cases in federal court.

Richard Convertino, the former federal prosecutor in Detroit, is suing the Justice Department and wants to find out who in the agency provided the reporter with information about the department’s ethics investigation of him.

Mr. Convertino, who resigned in 2005, says his privacy rights were violated with the disclosure about the probe.

Mr. Ashenfelter, who won journalism’s top prize in 1982, declined to comment Wednesday on Judge Cleland’s ruling. On Thursday, Free Press Executive Editor Caesar Andrews said: “We will clearly fight this. We will clearly look for some options.”

Messages left with Mr. Convertino and his attorneys were not returned.

Mr. Convertino was a high-ranking prosecutor who handled the first major terrorism trial after Sept. 11, 2001. But three convictions in Detroit in 2003 were overturned at the Justice Department’s request because evidence was withheld.

Mr. Convertino and a former State Department investigator were indicted for their work on the case, but a jury acquitted them in October.

Mr. Ashenfelter wrote a story in January 2004 that said Mr. Convertino was being investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The story listed many allegations and attributed the information to Justice Department officials who asked for anonymity because they feared repercussions.

Mr. Convertino filed a lawsuit against the government a month later.

The Justice Department had conducted an in-house probe and said it couldn’t find the leaker.

“The anonymous DOJ officials may well have violated federal law by communicating with Ashenfelter as to these matters,” Judge Cleland wrote in his ruling.

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