REXBURG, Idaho (ABC4) – A reporter covering the Chad and Lori Daybell case extensively is being called to testify at trial.
“It is an extraordinary case and that’s why we need to protect the press so it can continue to do its job,” Attorney Jeffery Hunt told ABC4. Hunt is representing Nate Eaton, a reporter with East Idaho News who has covered the Daybell case since the beginning.
Chad Daybell and his wife Lori Vallow Daybell are facing felony charges in connection to the disappearnce and deaths of Vallow’s two children: Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and Tylee Ryan.
Daybell’s attorney filed a subpoena requesting Eaton appear as a witness during a change of venue hearing on June 9, 2021.
“Their (the defense team) view is that there’s been so much attention to the case and pre-trial publicity that their clients can’t get a fair trial,” explained Hunt.
While it’s uncommon for a reporter to get called to testify, it’s not unheard of.
Unlike most states, Idaho doesn’t have a shield statute for reporter’s privilege. However, former Idaho attorney general Dave Leroy told ABC4 there are some security measures in place to protect the press.
These measures, he explained, are based off a court case from 1985 (In re Wright, 108 Idaho 418, 700 P.2d 40).
Today, in cases like the subponea of Nate Eaton, the judge will most likely use a balancing test in which the judge will measure the need for the information that’s asserted by the defense and determine how important it is to the case. The judge will also decide if the journalist’s information can be collected from other sources.
Leroy explained the judge will also take into account possible damage to the journalism community if a reporter does testify. This helps maintain a free and fair press which is protected under the First Amendment.
Hunt said he is currenlty in communication with the defense team and the prosecutors in the case. He hopes these conversations will lead to Daybell’s attorney withdrawing the subponea. If that doesn’t work, Hunt will file a motion to have it quashed.
While Hunt is working to help Eaton and East Idaho News be able to continue reporting on the Daybell case, he is doing it for the greater good of all press. He stated, “We want to make sure the press has protection by the First Amendment so it can do its job of providing that free flow of information to the public about criminal cases and other matters of public interest.”
Unlike Idaho, Utah does have shield laws in place to protect reporter’s privilege. Hunt played a vital role in getting those laws passed.