When a state attorney ordered the raiding of the James Madison University student newspaper's offices in April, it rang a few alarms. There was significant freedom-of-the-press outcry after the Rockingham County Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst, with the help of police, stormed the Breeze newsroom and seized more than 900 unpublished photos in an effort to aid her office's investigation of a raucous off-campus party at JMU. After initially taking a firm stand that police had to see the photos, Garst relented, allowing the photos to be sealed by a third party until she and the Breeze could work out some kind of agreement.
That agreement came yesterday. Garst officially apologized to the Breeze and the state will give $10,000 to the student newspaper for attorney's fees, the Breeze reports. Garst said she regretted the "fear and concern that I caused the Breeze and its staff." She also said she'd use a subpoena for any future requests for information from a news organization unless there was an "imminent need to prevent the loss of life or the threat of bodily injury." Twenty of the Breeze's photos were given to Garst's office through the agreement.
"I'm pleased we were able to reach this settlement with the Commonwealth's Attorney, and that they've expressed regret and have pledged not to pursue information without a subpoena," the Breeze's Editor-in-Chief Katie Thisdell tells the Breeze.
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