U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journal & Topics editor Todd Wessell subpoenaed to reveal source

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 2017

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
May 20, 2017

Todd Wessell — editor at Journal & Topics Media Group in Des Plaines, Illinois — was issued a subpoena In May 2017 as part of a defamation lawsuit filed by police Sgt. Michael Holdman against the city of Des Plaines, Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner, and police Sgt. John Rice.

In 2015, Wessell wrote an article about Des Plaines police officers viewing a pornographic image on a department computer inside the Des Plaines Police Station. The article relied on an anonymous source who gave the paper a copy of a photograph that showed officers looking at the image.

Holdman was accused of leaking the photograph to the paper and demoted. In 2017, he filed a lawsuit against the City of Des Plaines, the police chief, and a fellow officer. 

In May 2017, the defendants in that lawsuit subpoenaed Wessell, seeking to uncover the identity of his source for the 2015 story.

Wessell told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he believes the defendants subpoenaed him in an attempt to confirm that Sgt. Holdman was the leaker, which would potentially exonerate them of wrongdoing.

In accordance with a court order, Wessell ultimately agreed to answer a single yes/no question.

“I was not going to reveal any source whatsoever, I was steadfast in that,” he said. “In the settlement, I agreed to them asking me one question. The one question was, ‘Did I get the information, the picture, from Holdman?’ and the answer was ‘no,’ and that was it. It was over. So they have no idea where I got it and they never will.”

Although Wessell was not forced to reveal his source, the case presented a financial burden for him.

“It was a very strange case to begin with and I knew we were in the right,” he said. “My lawyer had to make motions and go to court and it cost a lot of money, you know.”

The Des Plaines police department did not immediately return a request for comment. Holdman’s defamation lawsuit remains unresolved.

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