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Nixon Precedent Nixes Real Housewives of Salt Lake City Star’s Attempt to Subpoena ABC News Over TV Documentary on Prosecution


Jennifer Shah

Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jennifer Shah cannot subpoena ABC News over their documentary showing her transformation from a reality TV celebrity to a federally accused fraudster, a federal judge ruled.

In March 2021, Shah was arrested and indicted on charges that she conspired to defraud vulnerable people out of millions in a nationwide telemarketing scheme. The indictment fell months after the premiere of the reality TV show featuring her.

ABC News aired a documentary late last year titled The Housewife and the Shah Shocker, detailing the defendant’s work as a cast member and the alleged telemarketing scheme charged against her.

The film’s senior producer Eileen Murphy said that staffers interviewed confidential and non-confidential sources. Murphy said the team amassed a “vast trove of documents, footage, and communications” as well as “thousands of documents and materials such as e-mails, texts, drafts, pages of notes and digital media files.”

According to the ruling, no federal prosecutors participated in the documentary, but two supervisory special agents from Homeland Security Investigations did. Shah tried to dismiss her indictment and sanction the government for its role, but Senior U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein rejected that bid last December.

Earlier this year on Feb. 11, Shah served ABC News with a subpoena broadly seeking portions of the documentary that hit the cutting room floor. She also wanted any communications between the filmmaker and the prosecution team, identifications of all government employees that participated, and internal documents by the producers.

Judge Stein emphatically rejected that request on Thursday.

“The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognizes a journalists’ privilege in light of the need ‘to protect the public’s interest in being informed by a vigorous, aggressive and independent press,'” Stein wrote in a 5-page ruling. “The journalists’ privilege is a qualified privilege that protects both confidential and non-confidential press materials from disclosure.”

Key to the judge’s opinion and order was the Supreme Court’s standards set by United States v. Nixon, the landmark ruling that ordered former President Richard Nixon to disclose his tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials.

“Importantly, a Rule 17 subpoena ‘is not intended as a general ‘fishing expedition,”” Stein wrote, citing the Nixon precedent.

That is what the judge found Shah’s request represented.

“Indeed, none of the seven categories of documents Shah seeks ‘reasonably specif[ies] the information … believed to be contained in the documents sought,’ and instead, show that she ‘merely hopes that something useful will tum up’ through their disclosure,” the ruling states.

Attorneys for Shah and ABC News did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s email inquiries.

“Because the journalists’ privilege protects the material sought by the subpoena, and the subpoena fails to satisfy the requirements of Nixon, ABC News’s motion to quash the subpoena served upon it is hereby granted,” the ruling states.

When Shah was first arrested years ago, then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss contrasted her reality TV persona with that of her alleged crimes.

“Jennifer Shah, who portrays herself as a wealthy and successful businessperson on ‘reality’ television, and Stuart Smith, who is portrayed as Shah’s ‘first assistant,’ allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam,” Strauss said in a statement.

Smith, the ex-assistant, ultimately pleaded guilty to the crimes charged.

Strauss said at the time that the “so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims” were “fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”

Shah’s trial date has been set for July 11, 2022.

Read the ruling, below:

[image via YouTube/Bravo TV]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."