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Reporters Avoid Jail By Talking In Judge’s Chambers

November 7, 1986

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Private questioning by a judge in a multiple murder case spared two television journalists from being jailed on contempt charges Thursday when they convinced him they knew nothing that could help the defendant.

KGTV reporter Steve Fiorina and assignment editor J.W. August appeared before Superior Court Judge Franklin Orfield, who on Wednesday told them he would jail them unless they answered questions posed by attorneys for David Allen Lucas, who is accused of six murders and one attempted murder.

The judge had stayed the sentence until Thursday when he agreed with an earlier request by the journalists’ attorney to question them in chambers without attorneys for either side present.

″I feel good about the outcome but I don’t feel good about the way it came to this point,″ Fiorina said outside court. ″I think the defense attorneys were playing games and we were the pawns. ... It was a situation where we had nothing to offer and they kept pushing the point for no reason.″

Fiorina and August claimed the California Newsmen’s Shield Law protected them from having to reveal information about confidential sources or any information about material gathered but not published or aired.

After questioning them separately, Orfield said in court that he was convinced they knew nothing that would aid Lucas.

Defense attorneys Alex Landon and Steve Feldman asked for access to the transcript of the in-chambers hearing but Orfield said it would remain sealed to all attorneys and would be available for inspection only by the 4th District Court of Appeal if an appeal was filed.

Fiorina and August originally were cited with contempt by Orfield on Feb. 10, but he delayed sentencing until the two appealed. The appellate court upheld Orfield and the California Supreme Court refused to review the case, returning it to Orfield.

The case stems from a telephone call August received at KGTV, an ABC affiliate, in June 1984. An anonymous caller told him ″a murderer″ lived at a certain address.

The same day, August assigned Fiorina to do a story about the attempted murder of a Seattle woman who was attacked while visiting San Diego. He accidentally gave Fiorina an assignment sheet on which he’d written the address provided by the anonymous caller.

Fiorina dropped by the house, thinking it was the address of a paramedic who had treated the attempted murder victim. The house turned out to be that of Lucas.

When Lucas was arrested in December 1984, Fiorina recognized him as the man he’d seen at the house. The station broadcast a segment on the coincidences in April 1985.

Lucas’ defense attorneys wanted to know what the journalists told law enforcement authorities before Lucas came to be considered a suspect in the crimes.

They asked the journalists to disclose their law enforcement sources and recount unpublished conversations with those sources prior to Lucas’ arrest.

″We went into chambers and convinced the judge as we had tried to explain on the stand that we really knew nothing,″ Fiorina said. ″Our conversations specifically with any law enforcement agent, with any persons, have to remain confidential and we feel we’re doing that.″