Ex-federal prosecutor Richard Convertino has once again failed in his bid to get ex-Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to disclose his sources.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland ruled Monday that Ashenfelter, who recently retired from the Free Press, had the right to invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges, according to a court document filed Monday.
It was third time in the protracted legal battle that a federal judge ruled against Convertino in his bid to get Ashenfelter to sing. Convertino, now a private attorney, is suing the Justice Department, claiming it illegally leaked information about him to Ashenfelter.
The ex-prosecutor has been trying to find out the sources of an article Ashenfelter published in 2004 that said Convertino was under internal investigation by the Justice Department for his dealings in a major terrorism case that fell apart after the convictions. The government dismissed the terrorism convictions in the case, alleging that Covertino, the lead prosecutor, withheld information that may have been helpful to the defense.
Monday's ruling addresses a deposition in April 2009 in which Ashenfelter, for the second time, refused to disclose his sources. As he had done in a deposition in December 2008, Ashenfelter invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Ashenfelter claimed the privilege after Convertino, on his web page, had accused Ashenfelter of protecting criminals – those who had leaked the existence of the Convertino investigation to Ashenfelter.
The court document on Monday noted that Convertino argued that Ashenfelter couldn't hide behind the Fifth because he was safe from prosecution. Convertino backed his claim by pointing to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who testified before Congress that he wouldn't prosecute reporters who were doing their job.
But the judge backed Ashenfelter, noting: "General Holder's testimony offers Ashenfelter no protection from future prosecution."
The underlying lawsuit that triggered the battle over the deposition is still alive in U.S. DIstrict Court in D.C. The Justice Department has filed a motion to dismiss that.
Jim Schaefer of the Freep wrote that Convertino said he hadn’t read the ruling and wasn’t prepared to comment. Ashenfelter declined to comment to Deadline Detroit, deferring to his former boss.
Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Free Press, told Schaefer: “We’re gratified by the decision. This has been a long process, and we’re a big step closer to a final resolution and relief for David Ashenfelter. He’s a terrific reporter who’s stood up for his principles for almost a decade now.”