KUCI's Subversity Fights Subpoena

by Daniel C. Tsang

Copyright © 1995, All Rights Reserved

Irvine -- Freedom of the press often appears to be just a slogan, but this year, working at KUCI made me appreciate its importance. As host and reporter for Subversity, the weekly public affairs interview program that tries to uncover what the mainstream media will not cover, I recently was covering a couple of trials largely ignored by the rest of the media.

The first trial involved a civil lawsuit brought by Loc Minh Truong, a Vietnamese immigrant, now in his late 50's, who had been bashed almost to death because the assailants thought he was gay. One of those sued, a teenager who had been an Explorer Scout at the time of the incident, was represented in court by an attorney who saw me interviewing the victim, Truong, during a break in proceedings. The next day, this attorney approached me and shoved a piece of paper into my hands. I thought it was a press release. Instead, it was a subpoena to appear in court and produce "any notes, writings, photographs produced or made by" me regarding the case.

Now, I had been covering this case -- for various alternative media such as AsianWeek, RicePaper, and Frontiers -- ever since the beating several years before, and had accumulated quite a lot of material. I'd even written an opinion piece on the beating for the Los Angeles Times. I knew there was no way I would voluntarily turn over my reporter's files. In court papers the judge had previously approved, permitting me to record the proceedings, I was listed as a KUCI reporter. I next spent a frantic day searching for legal help. The seriousness of the endeavor is reflected in a Chinese-language news account of my dilemma in the Chinese Daily News, which proclaimed that I had risked a "jail term."

Jail was, in fact, a distinct, if remote possiblity, if the judge found me in contempt of court for refusing to turn over my files. I later discovered that I was in good company. In fact, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press regularly reports on hundreds of subpoenaes served on reporters and media outlets every year, most ending up being quashed or withdrawn. I also contacted Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, based in Sacramento, who along with other civil liberties attorneys, including from the ACLU, offered invaluable, free advice. At the station, KUCI managers, especially John Lewis, offered important moral support.

In this instance, the subpoena was withdrawn, after my volunteer attorney, Marc Alexander, normally a highly placed corporate lawyer, but with civil liberties leanings and a heart of gold, took up my case gratis, and faxed opposing counsel a request that they withdraw the subpoena.

Marc's legal expertise was put to work over an entire weekend, resulting in a well-argued brief exploring the legal rights reporters have under the state Constitution and Evidence Code, which I wished he had the opportunity to submit. Because the subpoena was withdrawn, the issue became moot. Nonetheless, Marc's crash legal research uncovered that for many years, there has been a "shield law" protecting reporters' files of unpublished work from forced disclosure here in California.

According to my counsel, "Mr. Tsang has a trial to cover. The subpena is blatantly oppressive and harassing. If a news reporter such as Mr. Tsang had to testify about information that he gathered as a reporter, disclose sources, and produce his notes, his sources would rapidly dry up, and his outstanding reputation as a reporter would take a severe beating." No kidding; he actually wrote that, on legal paper no less.

I also prepared a declaration "in support of motion to quash subpena duces tecum," in which I outlined my press credentials. Attached as exhibit 1 was a photocopy of my KUCI press badge. Another exhibit was my 1993 L.A. Times opinion essay, "Laguna Beach Beating Opens Closed Asian Door." Also I attached a copy of the court form, "Re quest to Conduct Film and Electronic Coverage," signed by the judge with her notation: "No flash; No noisy auto wind; No photographs or videos of jurors." This form is standard for all reporters seeking electronic coverage.

The next court date, Marc showed up in court to represent me, telling the judge that I was protected by the state shield law. Judge Nancy Wieben Stock ruled I could continue to cover the case and tape the proceedings.

But the story did not end there. A few days later, Jeffrey P. Koller, the attorney who had subpoenaed me, even though the summons had been withdrawn, himself ended up on the witness stand, questioned by a colleague, and was asked what he had observed in the hallway that fateful day when I had interviewed Truong. Koller testified that he heard me ask for his address, and saw Truong write something in my address book. On the stand earlier, Truong had stated he couldn't remember where he lived. As Koller testified, he told jurors that I was the individual right then pointing a camera at him.

Who knows what effect Koller's testimony had on the jury, who in the end awarded Truong over $1 million in damages, but a lot less than he had sought.

As if this was not enough to stress out any reporter, after I went back to the Orange County Courthouse to cover another story, that of UCI student Dan Hoang, charged with attempted murder with gang enhancement in the Alton Square, Irvine, shootings last year, the prosecutor, Robin Park, tried to get the judge to throw me out of the courtroom, questioning my press credentials on a day I wasn't there. Park knew I was also an activist with AWARE, the Alliance Working for Asian Rights and Empowerment, from my involvement in an earlier case, that of Tu Anh Tran, a college student shot in the back but ironically charged with murder, whom I had also interviewed for Subversity both while he was in OC Jail and after his release. To his credit, Judge Daniel J. Didier told Park that to be fair to me, they should discuss the matter when I was there.

The next day I showed up in court late, proceedings having already started. One of the shooting victims was on the stand testifying. As I walked in with my tripod in hand the marshall made a motion with his arms that I could not take any pictures or make any recordings. Judge Didier then asked the witness to leave the stand, and cleared the jury from the courtroom.

The judge then held an impromptu hearing on whether or not I was allowed to continue to cover the hearing as a reporter. After I explained what KUCI was and why I was recording the proceedings, and the prosecutor claimed that the victims were worried about their safety, the judge asked me if I would be content with merely audiotaping the proceedings, although I could continue to photograph the courtroom in the absence of jury and witnesses. I readily agreed. And thus remained the only reporter to cover the case of this UCI student that the prosecutor compared with "Al Capone" and used the model minority myth (she referred to the many Asians who graduate each year with honors from UCI) to stereotype the defendant, who unfortunately was convicted and faces a minimal fifteen-year prison term.

The mainstream media only covered Truong's civil case sporadically, and Hoang's trial not at all. Through Subversity, KUCI was the only media outlet to broadcast testimony from Truong's civil trial (including a convicted gaybasher's chilling testimony as to what happened) and to report on Hoang's case, including a broadcast jailhouse interview with Hoang, and a later show with his brothers as guests). Incarceration of Asians is almost totally ignored by other media. I hope you will continue to support KUCI's public affairs programs and especially tune in and call in to Subversity, now on a new day and at a new time, Tuesdays from 5-6 p.m. Join us to celebrate freedom of the press; KUCI needs your support to continue to bring you news and reporting that subverts the Orange Curtain. Call (714) 824-KUCI during the show to chat with me or the guests, or call me at my office, 824-4978. You can also email me at dtsang@uci.edu with your story ideas or views. I look forward to hearing from you.


Alexander, Marc, "Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Suppoort of Motion
       to Quash," March 7, 1995, unpublished legal brief (not submitted).

Chou, Jerome, "Radio Activism," A. Magazine, April/May 1995, pp. 32-34, 82.

Flash: The Membership Bulletin of the California First Amendment Coalition. 
       926 J Street, Suite 1406, Sacramento, CA 95814.  (916) 447-2322.  
       E-mail: coalition@aol.com.  Welcomes individuals or media outlets as 

Gao, Man, "Court Subpoenas Asian Reporter: Judge Protects Reporter's Rights," 
       Sing Tao Daily, March 8, 1995, p. 24. [In Chinese.]

[Hsiao, Esther], "Successfully Utilizing Calif. State Journalists' Protection 
       Law, Tsang Chun Tuen Avoids Jail Term Disaster," Chinese Daily News, 
       March 7, 1995, p.B3. [In Chinese.]

Hoffstadt, Kelly, "KUCI Reporter Fights Subpoena for Notes on Gay-bashing 
       Case," New University, March 13, 1995, p.4.

Lycan, Gary, "Airchecks," Orange County Register, March 26, 1995, p.Show 34.

Tsang, Daniel C., "Asian 
American Gangbanger Stereotype Sentences UCI Student 
       to 15 Years in Prison," New University, April 17, 1995, pp. 16-17.

Tsang, Daniel C., "Laguna 
Beach Beating Opens Closed Asian Door," Los Angeles
       Times, January 18, 1993, B5 (home edition); B9 (Orange County edition).

Tsang, Daniel C., "UCI Student Convicted of Attempted Murder, Faces Long Prison
       Term," AsianWeek, April 21, 1995, pp. 1, 4-5.

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