Editor's firm stand on principle earns victory for h.s. journalists
Prosecutor finally drops subpoena against Stacey Burns for paper's photographs of brawl
WASHINGTON — Good things come to those who wait — a lesson the former editor of Mountlake Terrace High School’s student newspaper will never forget. Stacey Burns is one of a select group of high school journalists who fought a court subpoena and won.
Burns, now entering her second year of study at the Pullman campus of Washington State University, was editor at the Hawkeye her senior year of high school. On January 26, 1995, two students started a fight in the school’s parking lot. The fight turned into a brawl involving more than 20 students and observed by many others. The police were called.
When the brawl ended, the police asked the two Hawkeye photographers, who were at the scene with their cameras, to turn over their film. They refused.
After careful consideration, Burns and her staff chose to deny a court subpoena asking them to turn over the photographs. The students claimed there were other ways for the police to obtain the information, such as interviewing the 150 witnesses and the 10 students who were suspended for the fight.
Burns feared the loss of credibility for her paper if it was perceived as an investigator for the police.
The county prosecutor abandoned the case against Burns in May because the statute of limitations had expired, reported The Seattle Times. His decision left Burns a victor in her struggle to uphold the rights of high school journalists, said Howard Stambor, Burns’ attorney.
“She handled herself with great wisdom, maturity and courage,” he said. “She understood and took control. She is going to be a much more mature young woman for it.”
Vincent DeMiero, Hawkeye adviser, said Burns would not face any charges and the photos would remain hers.
“I had full faith in the way she would handle the situation,” DeMiero said. “She has kept a real mature way about her. Any time we face tough decisions, I think that is a good thing.”
Burns has no regrets.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” she said. “The staff members were very supportive and the parents of staff members were also very supportive.”
Burns said if she faced the same circumstances again, she would do the same thing.
“There’s nothing that I regret doing,” she said. “My mother was always there. My father was very supportive and so was my sister. I got cards from my extended family and relatives.”
Stambor said he admired Burns’ actions and the way she handled herself throughout the ordeal.
“She had the foresight,” he said. “She never considered giving up the pictures.” Burns said she was unaware of her rights at the beginning and learned a great deal in the end. She said she was fairly sure of doing the right thing and that her stubbornness and strong will had served her well.
“I wasn’t aware of my rights as a student journalist. I really didn’t have a clue,” she said. “I’ve gained a lot of knowledge of student press law and an overall experience that I’ll never have again for the rest of my life, hopefully.”
When informed she could possibly face jail time if the courts upheld the subpoena, Burns stood firm. She said she did not believe the court would have thrown her in jail. “We joked about it a lot,” she said.
As for now, Burns is writing for her college paper and working on what she loves — her writing.
“I just want to become an accomplished writer and keep writing,” she said, “I would like to be in a leadership position some day.”
Burns was the recipient of the 1995 Student Press Law Center’s Scholastic Press Freedom Award because of the actions she took to protect her newspaper and staff members.
Fall 1996, Mountlake Terrace High School, reports, Washington