BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — An appellate court has denied a petition from The Bakersfield Californian to overturn a Superior Court judge’s ruling that a reporter must turn her notes over to attorneys representing a man charged in the killing of a corrections counselor.
In a ruling published Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal said Kern County Judge Elizabet Rodriguez properly denied the newspaper’s motion to quash a subpoena ordering a reporter to hand over notes she took when she interviewed a co-defendant charged in the slaying.
The newspaper now has two options: comply with the order, or appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court.
Thomas R. Burke, the Californian’s attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe on Tuesday said it’s extremely important for Robert Pernell Roberts, her former client, to have all relevant information as his case proceeds. She said she’s pleased the appellate court justices recognized “the unique factual circumstances of this case” and the importance of the unpublished notes.
Blythe has accepted a job with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and Roberts is now represented by Deputy Public Defender Gordon Lake.
In March, Blythe served the Californian subpoenas seeking notes from reporter Ishani Desai after she interviewed Sebastian Parra, Roberts’ co-defendant, in jail.
Roberts, 30, and Parra, 23, are charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery in the death of Benny Alcala Jr., who was shot the night of Aug. 24, 2022, near the Target on Stockdale Highway Alcala, 43, died at the scene.
Blythe argued the information Desai received during the jailhouse interview was “necessary and material” to Roberts’ defense.
Burke said the notes were protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and the state’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being compelled to disclose confidential sources or unpublished material.
Rodriguez ruled in favor of Blythe, but the newspaper appealed to the 5th District. Oral arguments were heard late last month.