Update - New Canaan journalist ordered no contact with complainants
Published 3:31 pm, Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Teri Buhl, a 38-year-old journalist from New Canaan, appeared in court Dec. 20, where she was ordered to cease contact with the complainants in her case, which was continued till Jan. 31. The state's order includes all forms of contact including mail and phone. Judge Maureen Dennis explained.
"So I can't call to get comments for the story?" Buhl asked in court.
"Well I'm sure if you are a writer then you understand what I mean by no contact," Judge Dennis replied.
Last month, Buhl pleaded not guilty in the Norwalk Superior Court on charges of second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with a police investigation.
The charges were issued after police said Buhl posted sensitive personal journals of her boyfriend's 17-year-old daughter on Facebook. Buhl claims that all of these charges and issues stem from a story she is writing on underage drinking.
"I'm still going to write the story," she said after her court appearance Dec 20.
Her attorney Chris Caldwell indicated that he has concerns about the new no-contact order.
"We view today's development concerning the court imposed no-contact order as unfortunate for several reasons. First, Ms. Buhl has had no contact with the complainant since before this case came to court. Furthermore, there has been no change in circumstances since the arraignment, other than the complainant today requesting this restriction. Therefore, in the absence of evidence showing that Ms. Buhl has contacted the complainant, we believe it was unwarranted," Caldwell said. He explained that he did not want his client to be wrongfully accused of breaking the no-contact order due to any potential misconstrued online posts.
"Our fear is that this order will be used by some anonymous blogger or like individual to contact the complainant while pretending to be Ms. Buhl, thereby causing a hearing on whether she has violated the conditions of her release and at which we would necessarily be asked to prove a negative. We will maintain close contact with the State and it's continuing investigation as we prepare for the next court date in late January."
The original journals posted on Facebook detailed underage drinking and sexual situations at a party the girl attended, according to a five-page arrest affidavit.
After being notified that a warrant for her arrest had been signed, Buhl turned herself in on Oct. 27 and was charged with second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with a police investigation. She was freed after posting a $5,000 bond.
In an online blog, Buhl commented on the status of her charges and offered up an initial explanation.
"Yep -- they arrested me. It was quite the surprise," she wrote on christopherfountain.com. "I firmly believe this is nothing more then (sic) a case of small town cops harassing a journalist over first amendment rights while protecting sources and a few Wall Street parents trying to keep their and their 18-year-old daughters' name out of a story about what happens when adults let underage drinking go unchecked."
The investigation began June 24 when the girl and her father came to New Canaan police headquarters to report that someone put her journals up on a Facebook page. The girl told police that the notes were kept in a dresser drawer in her bedroom, the affidavit said.
She said she e-mailed the person who posted the pages, supposedly named Tasha Moore, and told her she would go to the police if she did not stop. A person replied saying they welcomed legal action, but thought she would not go through with it because the girl's father was a corporate lawyer and he would find out about her drinking and related activities if she made a complaint.
A day later, the girl's father presented police with a Priority Mail package he received a day earlier containing a brief description of his daughter's actions while at the drinking party. Also included in the anonymously sent package were photocopies of 10 pages of his daughter's journal writings.
Then on July 1, the father contacted police and told them that his girlfriend Teri Buhl told him she sent the Priority Mail package. The father said Buhl told him one of his daughter's friends approached her with the pages and she thought that he should know about his daughter's behavior, the affidavit said.
When police spoke to Buhl, she admitted to sending the letter to her boyfriend and added that she is investigating the underage drinking problem in New Canaan and wanted to keep the identity of her informant confidential. Buhl denied having a Facebook profile using the name Tasha Moore, and said she did not post any information on Facebook, the affidavit said.
Police executed search warrants for the Facebook page assigned to Tasha Moore and determined that Buhl, using her Cablevision account, logged on to the Facebook page from her home when the materials were uploaded to the page on June 23, the affidavit said.
After pleading not guilty, Buhl, a former financial reporter for the Greenwich Time, a Hearst publication, and her attorney, Chris Caldwell, elected for a jury trial and a continuance.
"We obtained a rather voluminous copy of the state's file," Caldwell said after the Nov. 9 court date. "Between now and Dec. 20, we will review the information provided and, if necessary, ask the state to file a more particular statement as to the exact facts it claims constitutes the elements of each of the crimes charged."
He added, "Because this case involves the criminal prosecution of a bona fide journalist working on a topic of great public importance -- permissive underage drinking and drug use -- we have to take extra care to insure that the first amendment freedoms at issue are protected from an improper and chilling application of the criminal law."
Caldwell said his client has talked to several publications to gauge their interest in an underage drinking story, but would not specify any by name. Caldwell added that the First Amendment is the victim here and it is his intention to defend the freedoms it guarantees.
Buhl is next scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 31.
--John Nickerson also contributed to this report.