BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A federal judge cleared the way for
Sports Illustrated to appeal a decision that would have forced the
magazine to reveal sources used in a story about former Alabama
football coach Mike Price.
U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith's order Wednesday approved the
appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because the issue
"involves a controlling question of law as to which there is a
substantial ground for difference of opinion."
In December, Smith ruled Alabama's law allowing media outlets to
protect sources' identities did not apply to magazines. The Alabama
Supreme Court declined on April 1 to rule on the question.
Smith wrote Wednesday the "identity of the undisclosed sources
is unquestionably relevant to a determination of the truth or
falsity of statements attributed to those sources by defendants."
Price filed a $20 million lawsuit against Time Inc., which
publishes Sports Illustrated, over a story about the night of heavy
drinking that led to Price's firing last year.
Smith said if he had denied the motion for certification to the
Appeals Court, Sports Illustrated and Don Yaeger, who wrote the
article, would have to disclose the sources during trial.
"I feel confident that the 11th Circuit won't alter Judge
Smith's conclusion, but I understand why he wants to get that
decision," said Price's attorney, Stephen Heninger.
The judge also allowed depositions unrelated to the confidential
sources to continue. Depositions regarding the sources will be
halted until the appeals court rules.
Attorneys for Time Inc., which publishes the magazine, contend
the First Amendment guarantees SI's right to protect its sources.
The three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit judges
dismissed Prices $20 million defamation and wrongful termination
suit against the university because he had not signed a contract
before his firing.