Kadner: A judge threatens reporter with jail
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org September 20, 2013 11:38PM
Joe Hosey | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:38AM
Will County judges apparently don’t like the idea of a free press or freedom of speech in America.
On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Gerald Kinney issued a contempt of court order against a reporter for refusing to reveal his confidential source.
The reporter, Joseph Hosey, an editor for the Joliet Patch online news service, had described in a story some gory details of a sensational double murder in Joliet — including information allegedly contained in the police report that two of the killers had sex on the victims’ dead bodies.
A defense attorney for one of four defendants, Bethany McKee, asked Kinney to compel Hosey to turn over his notes, any documents in his possession and testify regarding his source of information. Hosey has refused.
On Friday, Kinney ruled that Hosey was in criminal contempt and fined him $1,000 plus $300 for each day he fails to identify the source. The judge set a 180-day deadline for the disclosure and warned Hosey that he could go to jail for three months if he does not name his confidential source.
Hosey’s lawyer, Kenneth Schmetterer, is appealing the ruling.
Let’s get one thing clear here: There is no claim that Hosey was a witness to the crime or that he interviewed anyone who has essential knowledge about the crime.
The goal seems to be to find out who leaked police reports to Hosey and to learn whether he somehow obtained access to grand jury evidence.
A source has confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times, a sister newspaper of the SouthtownStar, that details about co-defendants Joshua Miner and Alisa Massaro having sex on the bodies of the victims is indeed contained in police reports.
The two people murdered were Eric Glover and Terrance Rankins, both of Joliet, who were found Jan. 10 in the home of Massaro’s father on Hickory Street in Joliet. The killings have been dubbed the “Hickory Street Murders.”
In Illinois, reporters have a statutory, qualified privilege in protecting their sources, whether confidential or non-confidential, from compelled disclosure.
The law provides that a judge cannot order disclosure of the source of any information obtained by a reporter, except upon finding that “all other available sources of information have been exhausted” and either that “disclosure of the information sought is essential to the protection of the public interest involved,” or in libel or slander cases, that the plaintiff’s need for disclosure “outweighs the public interest in protecting the confidentiality of sources of information by a reporter.”
Kinney has pierced the reporter privilege because, well, he doesn’t think it should exist.
Kinney is the same judge who told the Sun-Times to take a hike when it sought computer records about another Will County judge who was surfing the Internet for porn while in his court chambers.
Former Circuit Court Judge Joseph Polito searched 243 porn sites during a six-month period from 2010 to 2011.
We know this because the Illinois attorney general’s office overruled Kinney’s contention that Polito’s porn surfing was protected as judicial work product and therefore not subject to Illinois’ freedom of information law.
The attorney general’s office noted that Polito’s computer was paid for by the public and that looking at porn sites is not protected by judicial privilege.
Maybe Kinney figures that if judges can’t secretly look at porn on the public’s dime, reporters shouldn’t be able to protect their sources.
It’s hard to know what Kinney is thinking because this decision makes no sense.
But that’s not unusual in Will County in my experience.
Several years back, I witnessed a judge threaten a Will County Board member with contempt for threatening to speak publicly about violations of the state open meetings law by the county board.
The board member claimed that her fellow members were holding closed-door hearings to discuss landfill issues that should have been talked about in public under Illinois law.
The judge not only placed a gag order on the board member, at the request of the Will County state’s attorney, but threatened to report her, an attorney, to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, suggesting that he would take away her ability to practice law.
The Illinois Appellate Court eventually overruled that judge, finding that elected officials have an obligation to speak publicly on issues of consequence to their constituents and that few issues are of more interest than the location of a landfill.
It ought to be obvious to anyone that the freedom to speak on issues of public importance is basic to our system of democracy and protecting that right for public officials is essential.
But in Will County, such subtleties are apparently too difficult for local judges to grasp.
I understand there’s a public perception that protecting sources is some sort of journalism gimmick, a way to convey rumors and gossip without naming names.
But it’s an important subject that has real repercussions for the public.
Some years ago, a Cook County police officer came to me with information about ties between people in law enforcement and organized crime.
It turned out that the sheriff’s top deputy was a bag man for the mob, and other members of the sheriff’s police department were covering up crimes and were actually involved in murders.
The guy who gave me the information was not only risking his job but his life.
I don’t know Hosey, who wrote a book about the Drew Peterson murder case that was made into a movie, and have never met his wife, who’s a reporter for the Herald-News, another sister publication of the SouthtownStar.
But all Hosey did was report details of a crime.
If those facts are incorrect, the defense attorneys can prove that during a trial. If they are accurate, it’s difficult to understand why the name of Hosey’s source is essential to the defense.
This is simply a fishing expedition by the defense, and the judge is saying that’s fine by him.