MINOT, N.D. — Back in January 2022, I wrote about Tom Simon, a radio reporter who had his phone improperly seized by state law enforcement in an attempt to reveal his sources for reporting about a closed meeting held by the local school board about a departed superintendent.
At the behest of school district officials, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, under then-Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, obtained a search warrant for the contents of Simon’s phone and his phone records but had to walk things back when it turned out the warrant was improperly issued.
North Dakota has a shield law for reporters.
Section 31-01-06.2 of the state Century Code states: “No person shall be required in any proceeding or hearing to disclose any information or the source of any information procured or obtained while the person was engaged in gathering, writing, photographing, or editing news and was employed by or acting for any organization engaged in publishing or broadcasting news, unless directed by an order of a district court of this state which, after hearing, finds that the failure of disclosure of such evidence will cause a miscarriage of justice.”
Stenehjem said his BCI agents “were unaware that Simon was protected by shield law.”
“The real story here is about the dysfunctional Williston School Board and how it got the state’s attorney or city attorney to get the state’s highest and premier law enforcement agency involved in such a minor incident,” Jack McDonald, an attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, told me at the time.
Simon is still pursuing a lawsuit against the state of North Dakota over the phone seizure.
Now Simon, who broadcasts for Williston Trending Topics News, is again at loggerheads with the school district. Richard Faidley, the Williston Basin School District No. 7 superintendent, has banned Simon from district property and issued an edict to district personnel instructing them not to speak with Simon.