Thursday a local district attorney outed a couple of his former employees as the sources of leaks during a couple of high-profile investigations. The DA was under oath, testifying in a pretrial hearing in one of those cases.
The DA was Robert James of DeKalb County. The employees, he said, were his former chief assistant DA Don Geary, and John Melvin, who worked closely with Geary. The testimony explained some WSB-TV scoops that puzzled the rest of the market and perplexed some in the legal community.
First, the scoops were great. Amazing, actually. In August 2012, on the same day Andrea Sneiderman was indicted for murder, investigators went to her parents’ home on Lake Oconee and arrested her. Somebody tipped off WSB – not only to the pending indictment, but also to the arrest. WSB (and the cojoined AJC) had the correct address of the lake house, and a photographer was positioned to shoot video of Mrs. Sneiderman getting taken into custody.
The presence of “the media” at Mrs. Sneiderman’s arrest became a rallying cry for her defense team. It showed, they said, that the prosecution was vindictive – and overreaching (the DA dropped the murder charge on the eve of Mrs. Sneiderman’s trial). Defense attorneys said they had pleaded with the DA to allow them to arrange a low-key surrender of Mrs. Sneiderman in the event of an indictment. Instead, the DA went for what turned out to be a flashy arrest.
Wish I’d gotten the tip. I’d have done the same thing.
The same day, WSB reporter Jodie Fleischer reported details of the indictment during a noon live shot. The indictment hadn’t yet been officially filed in the Superior Court clerk’s office, which makes it public record. Somebody leaked it to Fleischer.
The rest of us knew the indictment was pending but didn’t have a copy. During his testimony last week, James said he deduced that Fleischer got the leaked indictment info from Melvin, because the copy she had was identical to a copy Melvin had before the indictment was revised. (In the courthouse media room last week, Fleischer disputed that, saying she had a copy of the revised indictment, identical to the one certified in the clerk’s office.)
Fleischer’s name came up several times during James’ testimony. James said Melvin and Geary had “a relationship” with the WSB reporter. That may sound like more than it really is. Reporters develop relationships with sources and they’re based mostly on mutual trust.
James also talked about the indictment of Ellis, and the fact that a WSB photographer was waiting at Ellis’s house when the DA’s office executed a search warrant there. When he realized “the media” had been tipped off, James testified that he tried unsuccessfully to warn Ellis and postpone the search.
James said he confronted Melvin and Geary about the leaks. James said both men denied being Fleischer’s source.
Both men quit the DA’s office in 2012. After they quit, James said, “the leaks stopped.”
I didn’t ask Fleischer if the story James told under oath was correct. I wouldn’t have answered such a question and I wouldn’t have expected her too, either.
It’s worth noting that prosecutors didn’t question Geary and Melvin about it while they were under oath. Good call.
Scoops get noticed inside newsrooms but rarely outside them. The moment of triumph that accompanies them rarely last much longer than a moment. But these were different — especially the Sneiderman indictment, because the info came from inside a “secret” grand jury proceeding.
Sources depend on reporters to keep their names under wraps — and Fleischer undoubtedly upheld her end of the deal. But here’s a tip for those inclined to discreetly help their friends in the media: Try to be a little less obvious than Geary and / or Melvin might have been.
And call me next time!
This post has been updated to correct the description of Fleischer’s noon live shot, which did not include actual paperwork from the indictment.