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SPJ calls on Judge Kinney to rescind order compelling Illinois reporter to name source



David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, ekobe@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Free Joe Hosey.

That may be the battle cry of the Society of Professional Journalists later this week, depending on what happens in a suburban Chicago courtroom on Friday, Sept. 20.

Hosey, a reporter for Patch in Joliet, Ill., is facing a contempt citation and potential jail time from a circuit judge later this week for refusing to reveal the source who provided him police and autopsy reports in a highly publicized double murder case he’s covering.

No one should live under the threat of imprisonment just for doing his job — reporting the truth.

Will County Circuit Judge Gerald R. Kinney wants to know who provided the information to Hosey, so he ordered everyone who might be involved — police officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers and others — to provide the court with a sworn affidavit. In a fishing expedition that produced more than 500 of these affidavits, no one has admitted that he or she slipped these documents to Hosey.

The Illinois statute protecting reporters and giving journalists a privilege is well established; it has been on the books for 31 years. It says that a reporter can be stripped of the privilege only when “all other sources of information have been exhausted” and the “disclosure of the information sought is essential to protection of the public interest involved.”

Protection of the criminal defendants’ rights is not the issue in the case. The identity of the source is not relevant to the murder cases. Kinney acknowledges as much: In his order, he says that he previously “has indicated that these inquiries may seem to be off topic” in the context of a murder trial.

So he used a pair of slim reeds to override Hosey’s right to the privilege — a couple of “ifs” and “might haves.” Without any proof, the judge found that it’s possible that there might have been a breach of grand jury secrecy or it’s possible that there might have been a breach of the Supreme Court Rules, if the source was a lawyer. Those “maybes” are the public interests he cited.

Kinney gave Hosey until this Friday to produce his files and identify his source, but his lawyer, Kenneth Schmetterer, already has advised Kinney that Hosey will not comply. He asked the judge to go ahead and find his client in contempt — this procedural step will allow Schmetterer to take the case immediately to the Illinois Court of Appeals.

SPJ joins the Chicago Headline Club, our local chapter, in calling on Kinney to rescind the order compelling Hosey to name his source. As the Headline Club stated, “The ability of a journalist to protect his/her sources when necessary is a crucial tool in the collection of information to establish facts and verify truth.”

The message this case sends is that some servants in our government may think it’s OK to imprison a journalist for protecting those sources who provide accurate information of high interest to the public.

“We, as an organization of 8,000 journalists and journalism supporters, cannot stand by and let this happen,” said David Cuillier, SPJ president. “Society depends on leakers. We rely on people providing us information that we care about, even if the government doesn’t want it out — even if the information is inconvenient.”

The further message is that if Hosey goes to jail, then prosecutors, judges and others who want to chill the flow of information will be emboldened, and this scenario will play out again and again elsewhere in America.

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.

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