A federal judge rejected the attempt of the city of Elkhart, Indiana, to force the South Bend Tribune to turn over records of its reporting on an Illinois man who is suing the city for wrongful conviction.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch ruled on Feb. 26 that the city’s subpoena and allegations of conspiracy were “misplaced.”
The subpoena was issued on June 27, 2018, amid an investigation by The Tribune and ProPublica into the conviction of Keith Cooper in a 1996 robbery and shooting. Cooper was pardoned in February 2017 following new DNA evidence and a witness recanting testimony.
The city sought communications between Tribune journalists, Cooper and Cooper’s lawyer, alleging that The Tribune was biased and conspiring with Cooper to advance his lawsuit against the city.
In his order quashing the subpoena, Gotsch wrote that the text messages and emails Cooper’s lawyer turned over as evidence before the Court did not support the city’s accusations of conspiracy, The Tribune reported.
“The City cites… examples of communications that it interprets as evidence of conspiracy,” Gotsch wrote, “when they simply reflect a reporter doing what a reporter does—pursuing sources with information about the story, identifying inconsistencies in a story and confronting the relevant characters with that information, giving both sides to a story a chance to be heard.”
To the city’s complaints that the newspaper was biased in its coverage, Gotsch noted that the views of city and police officers named in the suit were not represented because they declined to speak to reporters.