West Virginia's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a newspaper in a dispute over confidential sources, but the decision will soon be eclipsed by a new state law barring disclosure of such sources in most cases.
The justices unanimously concluded earlier this month that Cabell County Circuit Judge Jane Hustead erred when she ordered the Lincoln Journal to reveal sources from a series of articles on Lincoln County's 2008 primary.
The Journal had reported on allegations that the publisher of a rival newspaper had funneled money through other individuals to a slate of candidates. Two of those contributors sued, alleging the series of articles were false and had defamed them.
The Supreme Court's May 2 ruling faulted Hustead for not following a standard set by a decision it issued in 1989. That standard says a reporter can't be compelled to reveal confidential sources "except upon a clear and specific showing that the information is highly material and relevant, necessary or critical to the maintenance of the claim, and not obtainable from other available sources."
Voiding Hustead's order, the justices required her to hold a hearing based on the 1989 standard. But while the Lincoln Journal's appeal was pending, the Legislature passed a law that replaces that standard.