U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Federal judge orders Chicago Sun-Times not to publish information

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 2019
Chicago, Illinois

Prior Restraint

Status of Prior Restraint
Mistakenly Released Materials?

The secret recording of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, here in a 2017 file photo, was included in an unsealed court document — the details of which the Chicago Sun-Times was ordered not to publish.

— File/Reuters
January 29, 2019

A federal judge reportedly ordered the Chicago Sun-Times not to publish the details of a court document, which the newsroom downloaded when it was mistakenly made public. The Sun-Times used this information in a story published on Jan. 29, 2019.

The Sun-Times article revealed that the FBI had secretly recorded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan pitching the use of his own private law firm’s services to a developer, in a questionable practice of merging personal and political business. The meeting was arranged by Alderman Danny Solis, who chairs the Chicago City Council Zoning Committee.

The story cites a federal court affidavit: “The details of the allegations against Solis are contained in a 2016 search warrant application filed by federal prosecutors seeking to search Solis’ City Hall office, campaign and ward office, homes and a North Side massage parlor where Solis allegedly received free sex acts.”

A week after the Sun-Times article, the business news site Chicago Business published a story behind the story. Citing anonymous sources, Chicago Business outlines how the affidavit was filed as part of an FBI request for a search warrant on Solis, a request that should have been sealed. Instead, it was mistakenly posted on PACER, a site through which the public can access federal court records. While it was temporarily available, the Sun-Times seemingly downloaded the document after it was published on PACER.

Chicago Business reports that Magistrate Judge Young Kim ordered the Sun-Times not to publish the details of the document, “presumably on grounds that premature publicity could undermine what appears to be an extremely wide-ranging federal probe into City Hall that has been underway for four years or longer.”

The Sun-Times reportedly defied this court order, and published the information contained in the document anyway. The Sun-Times declined to comment on the Chicago Business report.

Chicago Business added that “whether [Magistrate Judge] Kim will take further action” in response to the Sun-Times publishing the details of the affidavit is not known.

Courts have generally found cases of prior restraint — in which government officials seek to block information from becoming public — to be unconstitutional.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].