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Supreme Court orders reporter to name anonymous sources

St. Paul, Minn. — Ruling 5-2 in a closely watched media case, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a reporter to reveal the names of confidential sources who a discharged school football coach claims defamed him.

Overturning a lower court decision, a majority of justices said reporter Wally Wakefield of the Maplewood Review must turn over the names of anonymous sources for a January 1997 article about the school district's decision not to retain Tartan High School football coach Richard Weinberger. The unnamed sources accused Weinberger of intimidating and abusing his players and refusing to take direction. Weinberger sued the school district and four of its employees, alleging breach of contract and defamation.

Weinberger claimed the unnamed sources collaborated to remove him from his position as head coach. He said the sources spread false rumors and destroyed his reputation.

In a pretrial hearing, a judge ordered reporter Wally Wakefield to divulge his sources. Wakefield appealed.

Justice Alan Page wrote for the majority that Weinberger is entitled to the names, because it's the only way he can prove people intentionally spread false information about him. Page relied on an exception to the Minnesota Free Flow of Information Act, which generally protects the news media from having to reveal sources or disclose unpublished information.

The exception in defamation cases that Page cited requires the information-seeker to meet a three-part test, which Page said Weinberger did. Page was joined in the opinion by Justices Kathleen Blatz, James Gilbert, Sam Hanson and Russell Anderson.

Dissenting were Justices Helen Meyer and Paul Anderson. Meyer wrote that a person alleging defamation can't transform a reporter from a neutral observer into an informant when the information is not necessary to maintain the plaintiff's case.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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