By Dennis Robaugh
Thirty-nine news media organizations filed a friend of the court brief in the Third District Illinois Appellate Court on behalf of Patch Media editor Joseph Hosey, who potentially faces onerous fines and indefinite jail time for refusing to reveal the identity of a confidential source involved in his reporting on a January 2013 double-murder case.
The media organizations include the Illinois News Broadcasters Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which wrote the brief at the INBA's request, as well as CBS, Fox News, National Public Radio, Gannett Inc., Bloomberg, The Associated Press, The Daily Beast, the Tribune Company and the Washington Post, among others.
At issue are murder-case details published online by Hosey from a Joliet Police Department report. Will County Presiding Judge Gerald R. Kinney ordered Hosey to reveal the source of the report. On Sept. 20, after Hosey and his attorney, Kenneth Schmetterer, advised the court that he would not comply, Judge Kinney found Hosey in contempt.
Kinney imposed, but immediately stayed pending appeal, penalties that include a one-time $1,000 criminal contempt fine, a $300-a-day civil fine for each day Hosey refuses to reveal his source, and if has still not done so after 180 days, indefinite jail time until he does so.
"If Joe Hosey goes to jail, it will send a signal to would-be whistleblowers and concerned citizens that the state will punish them if they dare to share their knowledge with the media."
>>> Bob Roberts | INBA Freedom of Information chair
Judge Kinney said he specifically chose to find Hosey guilty of civil contempt because Hosey could be released from jail at the end of the murder trial if it were entered under the criminal contempt law.
Although Judge Kinney entered a gag order in the case on March 1, 2013, the amicus brief notes that Hosey began to quote from the police report Feb. 26, 2013, before the order was issued and that the Illinois Freedom of Information Act routinely requires police agencies to provide arrest information and reports to the media.
The brief, filed with the Third District Illinois Appellate Court on Friday, asserts that "crime reporting plays a distinct and vital role in public discourse,” and notes that "reporters, therefore, routinely obtain copies of arrest reports, and there is no basis to assume that the report at issue was somehow 'leaked' to Hosey, let alone that his source broke any law.”
In fact, during the September hearing, Will County Asst. State’s Attorney Marie Czech told Judge Kinney that Hosey’s disclosures on Patch "in no way" compromised the grand jury that returned indictments against defendants Bethany McKee, Adam Landerman, Joshua Miner and Alicia Massaro in the strangulation murders of Eric Glover and Terrance Ranks at Massaro’s home in Joliet. McKee attorney Kenneth Bretz sought the order.
The signatories are particularly fearful that the ruling, should it be allowed to stand, will have a "chilling effect" on the ability of reporters to obtain such reports and other information, both routine and otherwise, from confidential sources.
"Identifying Hosey’s source will not make any element of the defendant’s murder charge more or less probable,” the brief notes.
The brief states that upholding Judge Kinney’s order would gut the Illinois reporters’ privilege law, which is crucial to the media’s ability to act as a watchdog and uncover acts of malfeasance, fraud and official misconduct.
"A defendant cannot spring a trap by requiring all potential sources to sign affidavits, under the guise of exhausting all available resources, and then assume that one of them lied and proclaim that discovering the identity of that person is relevant to the proceedings," the brief states. "To preserve the intent and purpose of the statute, the lower court’s decision must be reversed."
"The shield law exists, and the Illinois courts have held, that the shield law exists to protect reporters precisely to prevent reporters from having to divulge confidential sources because it could have a chilling effect on very important work that journalists do," Schmetterer said in September. "That’s a principle that’s established, recognized by the appellate courts, by the Illinois Supreme Court and by the statute and that’s why we intend to vigorously press forward with our appeal."
"If Joe Hosey goes to jail, it will send a signal to would-be whistleblowers and concerned citizens that the state will punish them if they dare to share their knowledge with the media," said Bob Roberts, INBA Freedom of Information chair.
The amicus brief has signatories representing a wide array of print, broadcast and online news organizations and advocates for journalists.
The full list of signatories include:
- Illinois News Broadcasters Association
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- Allbritton Communications Company
- American Society of News Editors
- The Associated Press
- Association of Alternative Newsmedia
- Atlantic Media, Inc.
- Bloomberg L.P.
- CBS Broadcasting Inc.
- The Chicago Headline Club
- Courthouse News Service
- The Daily Beast
- The E.W. Scripps Company
- First Amendment Coalition
- Fox News Network LLC
- Gannett Co., Inc.
- Illinois Broadcasters Association
- Illinois Press Association
- Investigative Reporters and Editors
- Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University
- Journal Communications, Inc.
- The McClatchy Company
- MediaNews Group, Inc., d/b/a Digital First Media
- The National Press Club
- National Press Photographers Association
- National Public Radio, Inc.
- NBCUniversal Media, LLC
- Newspaper Association of America
- The Newspaper Guild - CWA
- North Jersey Media Group Inc.
- POLITICO LLC
- Radio Television Digital News Association
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- The Seattle Times Company
- Society of Professional Journalists
- Stephens Media LLC
- Sun-Times Media, LLC
- Time Inc.
- Tribune Company
- The Washington Post
Read Media Coverage:
- USA Today's Rem Rieder on Patch and the Hosey case
- Fox News on Patch's First Amendment Fight
- Chicago Tribune editorial in support of Patch
- Poynter: Patch Will Appeal Judge's Ruling
Read: Patch's Nightmare on Hickory Street coverage, by Joseph Hosey