Materials used to search journalist's home remain under seal

Media advocacy groups are frustrated that materials used to execute search warrants against a San Francisco journalist remain sealed even after the police chief acknowledged the searches were probably illegal.

Efforts to unseal warrant materials used to search the home and office of freelancer Bryan Carmody in May were set back again Friday after a San Francisco judge said he needed more information before making a decision.

David Snyder, executive director of The First Amendment Coalition, said Friday the delays have become outlandish given that the journalist should never have been searched. California's shield law protects journalists from search warrants.

"The system is somewhat confounded by the fact that something happened here that the law says should never have happened," he said, adding that part of the slowdown is due to the fact that "this is a hot potato that nobody in San Francisco leadership, whether the judiciary, the mayor's office or the Board of Supervisors, wants to deal with."

Carmody was handcuffed for hours May 10 while police, armed with a sledgehammer, searched his home and office to uncover the source of a leaked report on the unexpected death of the city's former public defender.

Because the warrants are under seal, it's not known what information police provided to support the searches or to what extent they disclosed that Carmody is a journalist. Police Chief William Scott apologized days after defending the searches, seeming to suggest judges were not informed of his profession.

San Francisco police say that unsealing search warrant records may jeopardize a criminal investigation, although police counsel Ronnie Wagner could not say Friday if there is one or who is heading it.

Five different judges approved search warrants on Carmody and they are now responsible for deciding whether to unseal the records.

Duffy Carolan, attorney for The First Amendment Coalition and other journalism advocacy groups, said she doesn't blame Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang, who is seeing the case for the first time after authorizing the search of Carmody's office.

"It just happens to be my sixth appearance begging basically for a hearing on the merits," she said.