That was a quick U-turn.
Less than a day after the Associated Press reported Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal aimed at forcing a Jacksonville newspaper reporter to testify in a criminal case, Bondi changed direction. She withdrew the appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal without comment late Wednesday after the Tampa Bay Times and others asked questions. It is the right decision, but Bondi's circuitous route to get there is disconcerting.
The appeal her office filed last week involves a criminal case against a former aide to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. Carletha Cole is charged with secretly recording a conversation with Carroll's chief of staff, and she allegedly sent the recording to Matt Dixon, a reporter with the Florida Times-Union. Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs subpoenaed Dixon to testify for the prosecution, but a circuit judge correctly ruled the reporter is protected by the First Amendment and that there is no compelling reason to force him to testify.
At Meggs' request, Bondi's office appealed the ruling last week. The appeal offered a pinched view of state law that provides journalists with a qualified privilege from being forced to testify unless they witnessed a crime or possess physical evidence. Journalists are not the investigative arms of prosecutors, and Bondi knows better.
The attorney general has been supportive of free speech and open public records, and she ought to screen attempts to subpoena reporters better than this. Bondi isn't talking about her change of heart, so it's unclear whether her decision to withdraw the appeal is based on rethinking the legal case or political considerations. It won't make Meggs happy, but it is the right decision and the criminal case against Carroll's former aide can proceed just fine.