In federal court on Thursday, The Boston Globe challenged a subpoena ordering one of its journalists to testify in a criminal case involving a Harvard University admissions scandal.
The journalist, Joshua Miller, now the Globe’s politics editor, broke the story of alleged bribes paid to Harvard’s fencing coach in the form of an inflated home sale price and other transactions. In exchange, the coach allegedly secured Harvard acceptance for the businessman’s two sons, by recruiting them to the fencing team.
A criminal investigation, which appeared to begin days after Miller’s story ran in April 2019, resulted in the indictment in December 2020 of the fencing coach, Peter Brand, and businessman Jie Zhao, who bought Brand’s house. Both men have pleaded not guilty to bribery charges.
Last month, federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to Miller ordering him to appear in court on Dec. 5 to testify in the men’s trial.
In a memorandum supporting a motion to quash the subpoena, Globe counsel Jonathan M. Albano cited extensive legal precedents protecting journalists from subpoenas and referred to “the widespread recognition that the First Amendment protects journalists from the needless disclosure of sources, investigative techniques, and both confidential and non-confidential work product.”
The United States attorney’s office in Boston would not comment Thursday on the Globe’s motion. The prosecutors have not yet filed a legal response to the Globe’s opposition in court.
Miller conducted several interviews with Zhao, including one on April 2, 2019 at a Logan Airport hotel, which Miller recorded.
In the interviews, Zhao attempted to convince Miller that his apparent beneficence toward Brand — he paid almost a million dollars for the Needham home that was assessed at less than $600,000 — was motivated by a combination of sympathy and financial self-interest.
“I want to help Peter Brand because I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice,” Zhao told Miller, according to the story, which noted that Brand’s commute to practice was approximately 12 miles.
“From my perspective, I’m just making his life better plus making a good investment,” Zhao added. Seventeen months after buying the house, Zhao sold it at a $324,500 loss.
The story included a dozen or so additional quotes from Zhao. In his memorandum, Albano requested that if the subpoena is not quashed, the judge in the case should only order Miller to turn over the hotel recording for the judge’s review, to determine if any statements from the interview can be admitted as evidence without Miller’s testimony.
In a written declaration, Miller said he was concerned that testifying would force him to disclose the identities of sources he considers himself “duty-bound to protect.” Being required to testify, he said, “will have a negative effect on my current and future newsgathering efforts” because it could make sources less forthcoming or less likely to speak with him at all.
Miller’s story suggested the Globe learned of the home sale after anonymous home buyers looked at public records related to the property and concluded “there might have been some funny business.”
Mike Damiano can be reached at email@example.com.