INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists urged an Illinois trial court today to quash a state prosecutor’s subpoena of former Northwestern University journalism students under the state’s shield law. SPJ joined the Student Press Law Center, the College Media Advisers, Inc. and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to file an amicus curiae brief today in support of the Medill Innocence Project’s motion to quash a subpoena demanding the “notes, memoranda, reports and summaries” created by student journalists involved with the Innocence Project. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Cannon accepted the brief today and arranged the next court hearing for Feb. 10.
The former students researched and reported the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who has been in prison for 31 years for murder, for the Innocence Project at Northwestern University. When the evidence provided by the students’ work convinced a Chicago judge to give McKinney another hearing, the Cook County state’s attorney subpoenaed information that included the students’ grades and e-mail communications. The amicus brief asserts that when the student journalists were conducting their newsgathering for the project, they were “reporters” as defined by the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act. As such, the students are entitled to the Act’s protections.
“What is being done to these former students isn’t only unprecedented, it’s excessive,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said. “The irony of this case is that student journalists worked to help free innocent people who had been wrongfully prosecuted only to be their replacements. These prosecutors once more direct their energies at the wrong people.”
The local SPJ chapter, the Chicago Headline Club, has been following the developments closely since the students were first subpoenaed. Members of the club attended the hearing today and issued a press release earlier this afternoon. CHC plans to be at the next hearing Feb. 10.
National SPJ leaders support state shield laws that protect a free press and continue to advocate for the passage of the Free Flow of Information Act that includes a federal shield law.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
- Hearst amicus brief (pdf)