Magazine can continue fight to protect sources

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:40 PM ET
Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A federal judge cleared the way for Sports Illustrated to appeal a decision that would have forced the magazine to reveal sources used in a story about former Alabama football coach Mike Price.

U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith's order Wednesday approved the appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because the issue "involves a controlling question of law as to which there is a substantial ground for difference of opinion."

In December, Smith ruled Alabama's law allowing media outlets to protect sources' identities did not apply to magazines. The Alabama Supreme Court declined on April 1 to rule on the question.

Smith wrote Wednesday the "identity of the undisclosed sources is unquestionably relevant to a determination of the truth or falsity of statements attributed to those sources by defendants."

Price filed a $20 million lawsuit against Time Inc., which publishes Sports Illustrated, over a story about the night of heavy drinking that led to Price's firing last year.

Smith said if he had denied the motion for certification to the Appeals Court, Sports Illustrated and Don Yaeger, who wrote the article, would have to disclose the sources during trial.

"I feel confident that the 11th Circuit won't alter Judge Smith's conclusion, but I understand why he wants to get that decision," said Price's attorney, Stephen Heninger.

The judge also allowed depositions unrelated to the confidential sources to continue. Depositions regarding the sources will be halted until the appeals court rules.

Attorneys for Time Inc., which publishes the magazine, contend the First Amendment guarantees SI's right to protect its sources.

The three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit judges dismissed Prices $20 million defamation and wrongful termination suit against the university because he had not signed a contract before his firing.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press