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Supreme court declines to hear NYT journalist leak case

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to weigh whether journalists have special free speech protections that allow them to avoid being forced to testify in government leak cases.

The court rejected an appeal filed by New York Times reporter James Risen, leaving intact a July 2013 ruling by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Risen must testify in a high-profile case.

Prosecutors want Risen’s testimony because they think information in his book, "State of War," was leaked by former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling.

In 2010, Sterling was indicted on 10 charges relating to Risen's book, including unauthorized retention and communication of national defense information.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told a group of media executives that no reporter would ever be jailed while he is in office for carrying out news gathering duties, according to a Justice Department summary of the meeting.

Last summer the Justice Department also pledged to tighten its criteria for targeting journalists in leak cases.

The appeals court ruling concerned a 2011 subpoena that Holder authorized in relation to Sterling’s trial, which has yet to take place.

Risen responded he could not be compelled to testify. The appeals court ruled that there is no "reporter's privilege" under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech, meaning journalists do not receive special treatment.

Various media organizations, including Reuters America LLC, which is owned by Thomson Reuters Corp, joined a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Risen.

The case is Risen v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1009.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and W Simon)

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