Citing the city's press shield law, a Washington, D.C., superior court judge has refused to allow unrestricted access to the notes and memoranda of journalist Sean McPhilemy, the defendant in a $100-million libel suit filed against him and his publishing house, Roberts Rinehart. The suit was filed in June 1998 by Albert and David Prentice, brothers and prominent Northern Irish businessmen who were both named in McPhilemy's controversial book, The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, as part of a secret, state-sanctioned Irish Protestant conspiracy to murder Irish Republican political opponents (News, June 22, 1998).

Russell Smith, attorney to McPhilemy and Roberts Rinehart, told PW the ruling protects the identities and characterizations of McPhilemy's confidential sources. However, the libel suit continues, although Smith said he expects a summary judgment ruling that will dismiss the suit. Telephone calls to the plaintiff's attorney had not been returned as PW went to press.

In an 18-page decision, the judge rejected the plaintiff's arguments that D.C.'s shield law d s not apply in libel cases or to a non-U.S. resident journalist. The judge noted that the primary purpose of the shield law is "to encourage the free flow of information" and that it makes no exception for libel cases. The judge also noted that British journalist McPhilemy published the book in the U.S. "precisely because the U.S. libel laws and free speech protections offered him more protection than the laws of the U.K."

After an initial printing of 7500 copies, The Committee now has 40,000 copies in print, according to a spokesperson for Roberts Rinehart. A 15,000-copy trade paperback edition was released this month and has already sold out. The company is preparing to go back to press for an as yet undetermined number.