By Alex Vavoulis
Four newsmen of The Fresno Bee were sentenced to jail until they would agree to answer questions as to how they obtained secret Fresno County Grand Jury testimony. The newsmen appealed to Fifth District Court to overturn 73 contempt citations by a Superior Court
judge. A 2-1 majority sustained two-thirds of the contempt charges. Fresno Justice Donald Franson Sr. in a dissenting opinion argued that all of the contempt charges should have been reversed. The Four were in jail for 15-days before Judge Hollis Best of the Superior Court released them.
In 1976, Each of the Four Newsmen was honored with the Civil Liberties Award by the Fresno Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. This event took place on May 10th at the Fresno Hilton with Attorney Howard Watkins presiding at the program. Professor Nancy McDermid of the San Francisco State University Speech Department spoke on “The First Amendment after 200 Years.” McDermid’s speech was recorded and broadcast on KPFA in Berkeley and KFCF in the Central Valley.
The Fresno community should be applauded for its support of the Bee Four. Fresno Psychiatrist Paul Levy gave important testimony before the court. The Board of Directors of the Fresno Free College Foundation entered the case as a Friend of the Court (Amicus Brief) before the 5thAppelate Court in California and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Board of the Foundation contended that constitutional rights were being violated, including the right to a free press. Board members at that time included Lesly Kimber, Blanche Nosworthy, Fresno State Professors Allen Skei and Hayward Moore, Judge Al Villa and attorney William Richert, and others. Fresno Attorney J. V. Henry wrote the Amicus Brief for the Foundation.
For the late James Bort, sacrificing for principle was necessary. His wife Barbara Jo said her husband told her that “it was probably the most important thing that either one of us will do in our lives.” In an article in The Fresno Bee on 12/14/92, Eli Setencich summed it up as well as anyone: “As newsmen, they had done what they had to do. They let the public know what they knew, allowing information to flow freely.”
Alex Vavoulis is Professor Emeritus at CSUF. He was President of the Fresno Free College Foundation (1972-92) and Founder of non-profit KFCF-FM. 4902 N. Sequoia Drive, #104 Fresno, CA 93705 Tel: 559-224-4140