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DEMOCRATIC NATL. COMM. v. MCCORD

March 22, 1973

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
James W. McCORD et al., Defendants. In re Carl BERNSTEIN et al., Movants, and The New York Times Company, Intervenor


Charles R. Richey, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

CHARLES R. RICHEY, District Judge.

 I. BACKGROUND

 This cause comes before the Court on Motions to Quash Ten Subpoenas issued and served on behalf of the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP), the Finance Committee to Reelect the President (FCRP), Francis L. Dale, Chairman of CRP, and Maurice H. Stans, Chairman of FCRP, all of whom are parties in these civil actions arising out of the break-in on June 17, 1972, at the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). *fn1"

 The subpoenas were issued to the Movants herein, who are reporters for, or managing personnel of, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Washington Star-News and Time Magazine. In identical terms the subpoenas command the summoned members of the press to appear for depositions and bring with them all documents, papers, letters, photographs, audio and video tapes relating in any way to the Watergate "break-in" or other political espionage operations against the DNC and associated organizations and individuals; all manuscripts, notes, or tape recordings of communications during the period June 17, 1972, through November 7, 1972, with a broad range of DNC officials and employees, persons connected with the McGovern-Shriver campaign, the FBI, the Metropolitan Police Department, or the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia; and all drafts, copies, and final drafts of news material relating in any way to the Watergate break-in or other political espionage operations against the DNC or connected entities and individuals. All of those summoned have moved the Court to quash the subpoenas; some of them have alternatively requested protective orders.

 II. ISSUES

 There are basically two issues raised by the Motions under consideration. The first is primarily a matter of procedure, namely, whether the subpoenas are so sweeping as to be unreasonable and oppressive and thus invalid under Rules 26 and 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The second issue is infinitely more important under the current state of the law and involves a fundamental constitutional right. Simply put, it is whether these subpoenas to the press are valid under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

 A. These Subpoenas Are Not So Broad And Sweeping As To Be Unreasonable Or Oppressive, and Are Therefore Valid Under The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure contains the general provisions relating to discovery. It has long been held that the deposition-discovery rules are to be accorded a broad and liberal treatment, *fn2" and that subject to certain specific limitations, discovery is to be allowed as to any matter that is relevant to the subject matter of the action. *fn3" Despite this liberal policy, Movants argue that the subpoenas should be quashed under those provisions of Rules 26 and 45 which state that such action may be taken by the Court where the subpoenas would cause undue "annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden" or are "unreasonable and oppressive."

 The Court does not find the subpoenas so unreasonable or oppressive as to justify the action requested by the Movants. Under the theory that relevance is not to be measured by the precise issues framed by the pleadings, but by the general relevance to the subject matter, *fn4" it would be difficult indeed for the Court to find that none of the material requested by the parties is relevant, particularly at this stage of the proceeding. Further, it is well established that if the requested material is relevant, discovery should be allowed without regard to admissibility at trial. *fn5" The fact that the materials requested cover an extended period of time and are voluminous will not render the subpoenas invalid, *fn6" especially in view of the fact that the subpoenas are limited to a reasonable period of time and specify with reasonable particularity the subjects to which the requested materials relate. *fn7" It is therefore evident that application of these general principles precludes the granting of relief to Movants under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 B. The Unique Circumstances and Great Public Importance of These Cases Compel a Finding by the Court That Movants Are Entitled to At Least a Qualified Privilege Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

 Because of its finding that the subpoenas in question are not unreasonable or oppressive under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court is directly confronted with a constitutional issue of the first magnitude. What is involved here is the right of the press to gather and publish, and that of the public to receive news, from widespread, diverse and ofttimes confidential sources. Movants have supplemented the record with numerous and persuasive affidavits of prominent figures of the Fourth Estate which assert that the enforcement of these subpoenas would lead to the disclosure and subsequent depletion of confidential news sources without which investigative reporting would be severely if not totally hampered. The competing consideration is the right of litigants to procure evidence in civil litigation. Underlying that right is the basic proposition that the public "has a right to every man's evidence" and that, in examining any claim of exemption from the correlative duty to testify, there is the "primary assumption that there is a general duty to give what testimony one is capable of giving and that any exemptions which may exist are distinctly exceptional, being so many derogations from a positive general rule." *fn8" These cases all are exceptional on the facts alleged and thus require particular scrutiny by the Court.

 The Court is well aware that other courts in "civil" and "criminal" cases, *fn9" and the Supreme Court of the United States in a landmark case involving a newsman's testimony before a grand jury, *fn10" have been reluctant in the absence of a statute to recognize even a qualified newsman's privilege from disclosure of confidential news sources. In view of the decisions and circumstances present in the above-cited cases, it is instructive to note what is not present in the instant cases. These cases are not "criminal" cases, and even though they are primarily actions for money damages, their importance transcends anything yet encountered in the annals of American judicial history. Moreover, Movants are not parties to the actions, but have merely been called to testify and produce documents at deposition. The parties on whose behalf the subpoenas were issued have not demonstrated that the testimony and materials sought go to the "heart of [their] claim," as was found to be true in the case of Garland v. Torre. *fn11" What is ultimately involved in these cases between the major political parties is the very integrity of the judicial and executive branches of our government and our political processes, for without information concerning the workings of the government, the public's confidence in that integrity will inevitably suffer. *fn12" This is especially true where, as here, strong allegations have been made of corruption within the highest circles of government, and in a campaign for the Presidency itself. This Court cannot blind itself to the possible "chilling ...


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