In response to a demand by engineer Rudy Warnock in his ongoing $6.3 million federal lawsuit over his termination at Canton Municipal Utilities in 2016, the Madison County Journal last week filed a formal motion to quash a subpoena to produce documents calling Warnock’s demand a “fishing expedition.”

The Journal responded Friday in U.S. District Court with the motion to quash and asked for a protective order against future intrusions through its legal counsel, noted First Amendment attorney Leonard Van Slyke of Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes PLLC in Jackson.

The Warnock subpoena, signed by a Ridgeland trial lawyer, commands the Journal to produce “any and all notes, records, documents and/or recordings of any Canton Municipal Utilities board meetings held during the months of December 2016 and/or January 2017.”

In response, the Journal said in the filing, “The subpoena seeks privileged information protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Plaintiffs [Warnock] cannot override that privilege, nor have Plaintiffs made any showing that the information is relevant or its production necessary.”

“Presumably, Plaintiffs wish to elicit documents and information that did not appear in any article published by (the Journal), but was gathered in connection with the article(s). The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi has held the First Amendment protects journalists with a qualified privilege from compelled production of this type of unpublished information and resource material,” the response continues.

The response states that “any relevant information should be reflected in the minutes of the Canton Municipal Utilities for the board meetings. Plaintiffs are free to review and introduce the same records and therby obtain direct evidence."

The motion also states that if the Journal “is subject to compelled production in response to subpoenas for documentation related to information that was gathered by a reporter in the writing of news stories — when it is readily apparent the information is obtainable through other means and there has been absolutely no showing of the relevance of the information sought or any compelling need for it — parties will have the green light to conduct fishing expeditions, as is happening here.”

Journal Publisher James E. Prince III said, “We feel confident the court will rule in our favor based on precedent and our First Amendment protection. Mr. Warnock is out of order as usual. We will not be intimidated by his shenanigans.”

Several exhibits were attached to the Journal’s response showing a history of orders granting motions to quash subpoenas in favor of news organizations throughout the state dating as far back as 1983.

A response had yet to be filed by Warnock’s attorneys Wednesday morning. Warnock is represented by Tad McRaney III of McRaney Montagnet Quin Noble PLLC of Ridgeland and John Corlew of Corlew Munford & Smith PLLC of Jackson.

Warnock filed suit against CMU in March 2017 seeking over $6.3 million in damages, claiming nearly $2.4 million is from work that had already been completed and nearly $4 million as a result of a termination clause in his contract.

In February, Warnock subpoenaed Marlo’s Backyard Bar-Be-Que, a Canton restaurant owned by Marlo Anderson, son of former CMU Commissioner Cleveland Anderson, that was quashed successfully for being excessive.

In the Warnock case, Cleveland Anderson is alleged to have discussed a murder-for-hire plot with Warnock to kill Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler and the Journal’s Associate Publisher & Editor Michael Simmons for $10,000 each.