A reporter for The Advocate who wrote a recent article about the unsolved 1985 slaying of Baton Rouge lawyer Joel Porter’s wife can’t be forced to testify in Porter’s defamation lawsuit against a detective quoted in the article, the reporter’s attorney argued to a federal magistrate Wednesday.
But one of Porter’s lawyers told U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Bourgeois Jr. that they want to question Advocate reporter Jim Mustian about the investigative file referenced in the January article, whether Baton Rouge police cold-case detective John Dauthier was the source of the file and whether Dauthier withheld information that may have supported Porter’s contention that he had nothing to do with his wife’s stabbing death.
Mustian’s attorney Scott Keaty argued that a subpoena for the reporter to testify at a deposition in Porter’s civil suit against Dauthier is nothing more than a fishing expedition. Mustian is not a defendant in the case.
Keaty said a reporter’s privilege under state and federal law protects confidential sources, and he added that the investigative file in the Denise Porter killing belongs to the city of Baton Rouge — not Mustian or The Advocate.
“What we have here is a plain request for the case file,” Keaty told Bourgeois. “The press is not an arm of the government. Private litigants cannot use the press as a research tool.”
Porter attorney Donna Grodner accused Dauthier and Mustian of being in cahoots in publishing the article “Cold case killing haunts BR attorney.”
“He was the one spearheading this press release,” Grodner said of Dauthier.
She argued further that the relationship between Mustian and Dauthier was not of a confidential nature.
“Any time we ask about the contents of the file, we cannot get any answers,” Grodner complained.
Bourgeois did not issue a ruling from the bench, but instead took the arguments under advisement.
The magistrate did say that Porter’s dislike of the article doesn’t give him the right to compel Mustian to testify at a deposition about the sources of his material.
Grodner argued the article included “untrue and defamatory” allegations against Porter, but Bourgeois noted the article quoted a search warrant as saying Porter always has been a suspect in his wife’s death.
“I don’t see how deposing Mr. Mustian will help you one way or the other,” the magistrate added.
Porter accuses Dauthier of “defamation by innuendo” for allegedly providing “an array of false and scandalous” statements to certain media sources, including The Advocate. Porter, for example, claims the detective falsely accused him of running from the police in connection with the collection of his DNA. Porter says in the suit that he had an “ironclad alibi” the night of Denise Porter’s death and the investigation of him is “groundless and baseless.”
Porter also accuses Dauthier of using too much force when serving a search warrant on him in March 2013 to collect a DNA sample from him.