Albion Monitor /News

Editor Jailed for Refusing to Surrender "Bear" Lincoln Letter

by Nicholas Wilson

Kept in isolation without reading or writing materials

Bruce Anderson, the controversial editor of Mendocino County's Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA), was jailed Friday for defying a judge's order to turn over the original of a letter to the editor from murder defendant Eugene "Bear" Lincoln. Anderson was led away in handcuffs as members of the courtroom audience cheered him. The letter was subpoenaed by the district attorney for use as evidence against Lincoln, who is accused of killing a sheriff's deputy in April 1995.

Anderson's wife, Ling, said he was being kept in isolation and has been denied reading materials. Though he has writing paper he has no pen or pencil. Mrs. Anderson said Anderson was visited by an associate Saturday, and said he would phone her Sunday at 9 AM, but had not called as of Monday evening. She wondered if he was being denied access to the phone. She said she had been contacted by reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner, the San Jose Mercury News, the Nation, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Judge called the jailing justifiable "coercion"

As previously reported in the Albion Monitor, Anderson's attorney cited state law shielding reporters from being required to disclose unpublished information. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge James Luther ruled that the letter had been published and was therefore not protected, and ordered Anderson to produce the original letter. When Anderson refused, the judge found him in contempt of court and ordered him jailed until he surrendered the letter.

Judge Luther delayed the jailing to allow Anderson to appeal the contempt ruling to a higher court. The Court of Appeal recently denied the appeal without stating a reason. Anderson immediately appealed to the California Supreme Court, but word of denial of that appeal was received shortly after he was jailed.

Anderson has vowed not to produce the letter in order to preserve people's confidence in him to protect their freedom of speech and his own freedom of the press. "If the government can just rummage through my files, people will cease communicating with my paper, and with papers, period," he said in a Albion Monitor interview last March.

Although the judge called the jailing justifiable "coercion" to produce the letter, Anderson said he thinks it is punishment for his paper's coverage of the high-profile Lincoln case.

In a radio interview by Gordon Johnson for public radio stations KZYX and KMUD, Anderson said: "The so-called evidence they claim they need from me has to do with a matter that's not contested. Bear Lincoln has admitted that he was there (at the shooting scene). They claim they need the original of the letter to prove that he was there. They don't! That's absurd! So I think it's clearly that they resent the coverage the AVA has done of the Lincoln case and the Covelo situation generally, and they resent the criticism aimed at the District Attorney's office, they resent the criticism of Sheriff Tuso's conduct in office, they resent it generally, and, as they often do in Mendocino County, they use tax money to go after their critics. They've done it to me before -- not that I wasn't asking for it of course." This last comment referred to his conviction and jailing for 35 days in 1989 for misdemeanor disturbing the peace, which resulted from his coming to blows with a former county schools superintendent at a public meeting.

Anderson came to court Friday without an attorney, and said he had not been notified by his attorney to appear, but only heard he was to appear by word of mouth. Anderson addressed the judge, saying: "You've sentenced me for contempt of court because I wouldn't turn over the letter -- which I'll NEVER turn over, you're NOT getting the letter -- and the word you used was coerce, that I would remain in jail until the document was coerced from me. So I'm prepared to begin the process of coercion. And since you're going to inconvenience me for a year, I hope you'll allow me the convenience of going to jail today, rather than going back to Boonville and having Deputy Dennis Miller or another sheriff's deputy arrest me in the middle of the night, when I'm not prepared to go." Judge Luther replied that if he was ready to surrender the sheriff would take him into custody. Anderson replied, "Thank you."

District Attorney Susan Massini denied she was out to get her longtime critic, pointing out that it was not she but the judge who ordered him to produce the letter. She maintained that the judge had ruled that the letter was relevant evidence in the Lincoln case, and she said that the prosecution is required to use the best available evidence at trial -- a photocopy or reprint can't be used.

Could remain in jail up to nine months

Earth First! activist Judi Bari spoke out in support of Anderson's stand Friday evening at a public appearance marking the sixth anniversary of the Oakland car bombing that nearly killed her. Anderson, whose paper sports the motto "Newspapers should have no friends" on its front page, has harshly criticized Bari for several years. There is hardly a progressive activist in Mendocino County who has escaped Anderson's biting criticism and "vicious personal attacks," as Anderson himself has jokingly called them.

In a Monitor interview Monday, Bari said, "When people hear that Bruce is in jail they don't know if they should cheer or if they should boo. He has attacked so many people that it's hard to resist the temptation to say "let him rot." But, when he attacks me the way he does, my response is that I don't care what he thinks of my personality or my politics, when I'm being attacked by the state he needs to defend me. I think I need to apply the same standard to myself. One of best things the AVA has done in the last couple of years is the coverage of the Bear Lincoln case, and that's why he's in jail. He's in jail not for his wrongs, but for something he did right, and I feel we should be principled enough to support him."

Peter Sussman, President of the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), also voiced support. "It's courageous of Anderson to put principle above personal considerations, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude."

SPJ has fought recent attempts to restrict media contact with prisoners and limit courtroom coverage, and Sussman viewed Anderson's battle in the same way. "Especially in criminal justice, efforts have been made to cut back the media's right of access... when you intimidate people from communicating with newspapers by supoenas, you strangle the process by which the media works, which in turn jeopardizes the First Amendment."

That theme was echoed by Anderson in a March 13th AVA editorial:

People who write or talk to my newspaper must feel secure that I'm not going to run to the government with information about them. People have the fundamental right to express their views and I have the fundamental obligation to print them if that's what they want. It's none of the government's business who communicates with me or how they do it. Bear Lincoln is a person presumed to be innocent of the charges pending against him. He hasn't waived his citizenship rights. He still has freedom of speech even if he doesn't presently have freedom of movement.
Anderson could remain in jail through the end of the Lincoln trial, an estimated nine months from now. The trial is scheduled to begin August 26, and defense attorney J. Tony Serra said in court the trial could last six months.

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Albion Monitor May 27, 1996 (

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