JOLIET – Several journalism organizations are criticizing a judge’s decision to find a suburban Chicago reporter in contempt for not disclosing how he obtained confidential police reports about a gruesome double murder.
Will County Judge Gerald Kinney on Friday fined Joe Hosey, a reporter and editor for the AOL news website Patch, $300 a day for not revealing who leaked him the documents. Kinney also said if Hosey doesn’t disclose the information within 180 days he could go to jail.
The board of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association, which represents about 200 journalists, issued a statement calling Kinney’s decision “a slap at the First Amendment.”
“Every such order makes it less and less likely that sincere and well-meaning individuals will bring wrongdoing, malfeasance and corruption to light unless it suits the whims of those in power,” the organization stated.
The national Society of Professional Journalists and its local chapter, the Chicago Headline Club, also expressed “undaunted support” for Hosey.
Hosey’s attorney, Ken Schmetterer, has said he plans to appeal the ruling.
Hosey used the police reports in stories he wrote about the January killings in Joliet of 22-year-olds Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover. Four people were indicted in the crime, which police have said involved attempted dismemberment.
Hosey’s articles included information that hadn’t been released publicly, prompting attorneys for the defendants to seek a gag order to prevent parties in the case from discussing it or releasing information.
They also filed a motion to determine how Hosey obtained the reports he cited, saying that the disclosure may have violated the defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
Illinois has what’s known as a “shield law,” which states reporters may only be required to reveal confidential sources if a judge rules that all other means of obtaining the information have been exhausted and that doing so is essential to the public interest.
Kinney received signed affidavits from more than 500 police officers, attorneys and other law enforcement employees stating they were not Hosey’s source.
Kinney concluded that all other methods of determining the source of the leak had been exhausted. He also said that grand jury secrecy may have been violated, and that if the person who leaked the reports lied in an affidavit, he or she could have broken the law.