A lawyer representing a Fairhope bar owner has issued subpoenas to Lagniappe and one of its reporters seeking information about news sources and records of private communications that are clearly protected by Alabama’s shield laws and basic attorney-client privilege.
Attorney James Pittman is defending McSharry’s Irish Pub owner Ronan McSharry against a civil lawsuit filed by a woman McSharry assaulted in late 2018. That same incident, which took place on Nov. 22, 2018, previously led to McSharry being convicted of public intoxication and third-degree assault in Fairhope Municipal Court.
Lagniappe, like several other media outlets, reported on McSharry’s arrest and criminal conviction as well as the civil lawsuit the victim, Paula DiNardi, filed against him earlier this year. However, in court filings in that civil case, Pittman has accused DiNardi’s attorney, David McDonald, of colluding with Lagniappe to defame his client by reporting on public proceedings and publicly accessible court documents.
It should be disclosed that McDonald has represented Lagniappe in legal matters in the past. This publication has also written stories about McSharry — a prominent business owner in its coverage area — for years, and McSharry’s Irish Pub continues to advertise with the paper.
In court filings and public hearings, Pittman has focused on McSharry’s alleged defamation and even asked the court to seal certain filings so they would not be accessible to the public, in general, and Lagniappe reporters, specifically. Baldwin County Circuit Judge Clark Stankoski went on to grant Pittman’s request without ever conducting a hearing, despite objections from DiNardi’s attorneys.
That decision and a few other issues that have arisen in the case were the basis for a petition McDonald has filed seeking a writ of mandamus from the Alabama Supreme Court. If granted by the high court, a writ of mandamus would overrule at least two substantive rulings Stankoski has made in the case.
When the supreme court receives a mandamus petition, justices can either decline to hear it all together or they can ask for additional briefs from the other parties involved and, in some cases, the judge they are being asked to overrule. The court recently asked Pittman to submit reply briefs in McSharry’s case.
While the mandamus petition outlines specific concerns with previous rulings Stankoski has made, Pittman filed a motion to submit his reply brief under seal — meaning it is inaccessible to the public. That could be because some of the issues laid out in the petition deal with files Stankoski already sealed at Pittman’s request, though both have declined to discuss this case specifically.
Last month, likely due to his contention there is some sort of nefarious intent behind a newspaper’s efforts to report the news, Pittman issued subpoenas seeking various records from Lagniappe, Baldwin County Bureau Chief Gabriel Tynes and other media figures in Baldwin County. Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson has also be subpoenaed because of comments she allegedly made to DiNardi about McSharry.
Those subpoenas were received by Lagniappe last week and seek records and communications between reporters and their sources, private citizens and the paper’s attorneys. Lagniappe Co-publisher Rob Holbert said the publication will be objecting to the legality of those subpoenas in court.
“As the information Mr. Pittman seeks would be a violation of both Lagniappe’s journalists’ source privilege and attorney-client privilege, we are hopeful the court will agree with our objections to producing the materials he illegally seeks,” Holbert said. “I also fail to see how news coverage of this case has any bearing whatsoever upon the facts of whether or not Mr. McSharry assaulted Ms. DiNardi, or owes her compensation.”
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