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Local newspaper held in contempt over reporter's notes

Robert Pernell Roberts
Posted at 12:26 PM, May 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-24 20:33:51-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Local newspaper The Bakersfield Californian was held in contempt of court Wednesday morning after a reporter refused to turn over her unpublished notes regarding a jailhouse interview with an alleged murder suspect.

The Californian's attorney Thomas Burke wrote in an email that they are bringing this to the Court of Appeals, insisting the notes offer nothing that will "materially help" the Kern County Public Defender's Office. Burke wrote in an email that the move is contrary to California’s Shield Law and the First Amendment.

"Forcing the notes to be disclosed may cause others not to speak with reporters or to issue their own subpoenas," Burke wrote.

California's Shield Law protects journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources or provide unpublished material.

In February, Californian reporter Ishani Desai interviewed Sebastian Parra, who is charged alongside Robert Roberts for the murder of corrections counselor Benny Alcala Jr. Roberts' attorney, Public Defender Lexi Blythe, requested the unpublished notes after reading Desai's article based on the interview.

Earlier this month a judge found in favor of Blythe, ordering the newspaper to hand over the notes to the Public Defender's Office by 5 p.m. on May 17. Burke confirmed that the notes were not handed over.

Alcala was killed at the Shops at River Walk in August 24, 2022. Roberts was arrested a few months later on September 2. Parra was arrested on December 27.

Parra had testified that Roberts killed Alcala in the hope that Alcala had money, as he was charging an electric vehicle.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date Parra was interviewed.