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The Rock Granted Legal Protection as Journalist by NY Supreme Court Over HBO Documentary

June 9, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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It looks like an official legal ruling has granted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson legal protections as a journalist by the Supreme Court of New York County. The Hollywood Reporter recapped the court ruling and how the former WWE World champion also qualifies as a journalist based on his work for his HBO documentary production, Rock and a Hard Place.

A subject who was filmed for the documentary attempted to legally subpoena HBO for additional footage in hopes it might legally exonerate her from criminal allegations. HBO balked, citing legal protections and privileges for The Rock as a journalist under New York’s Shield Law.

The documentary was released in 2017 and showcased incarcerated juveniles who underwent a rehabilitative six-month “boot camp” program they could opt to take instead of a harsher prison sentence. A correctional officer for the program, Christy Laster, was employed at the time the documentary was filming in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She was later charged for bribery, grand theft and extortion.

The former corrections officer attempted to subpoena HBO to get some of the footage that was filmed for the documentary in the hopes of exonerating her for the extortion charge. It’s alleged that she extorted money from the program cadets and stole from a lockbox where their valuables were kept in an office.

HBO later responded to the subpoena with New York’s Shield Law, which offers legal protection against disclosing material that was gathered by journalists. During a court hearing, Laster’s attorney attempted to argue that due to the involvement of The Rock in the HBO documentary that it was a “celebrity reality TV show” rather than a legitimate “documentary” that was due protections listed under the Shield Law.

Judge Carol Edmead issued a ruling stating that she “cites no authority for the notion that the mere involvement of a celebrity in a project renders it somehow incapable of being classified as a documentary, or that a celebrity known for other endeavors cannot be deemed a ‘journalist’ under the statute.”

Her ruling added: “[The Shield Law’s] very broad definition of ‘professional journalist’ encompasses anyone involved in news gathering. Furthermore, the Court notes that even were the project more entertainment-focused, the broad definition would still likely apply as long as one of the purposes of the project was disseminating news to the public about the youth incarceration program.”

Additionally, Judge Edmead noted that Laster’s basis for trying to get access to The Rock’s outtakes for the documentary is pursuit of a “fishing expedition,” and she doesn’t have a strong legal basis for it against journalists. It appears Laster is only hoping that the outtakes might legally exonerate her, which is not a sound argument for her to legally obtain the additional footage from HBO and The Rock, who is being classified as a journalist under this statute.

You can read the New York Supreme Court’s full ruling RIGHT HERE.