Judge quashes subpoena for third-party work product, citing the state's reporter's privilege
On July 10, 2019, McHenry County Court judge Thomas Meyer quashed Algonquin Township’s second subpoena for the Dropbox contents from Edgar County Watchdogs.
According to a transcript of the hearing shared with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Meyer determined that Edgar County Watchdogs and co-founders John Kraft and Kirk Allen are protected under reporter’s privilege.
“My attitude is that the old definitions of what constituted a reporter don’t apply,” Meyer said. “And I think it would demonstrate ignorance on my part to pretend that the news reporting field is precisely the same now as it was maybe 20 years ago. It’s radically different, and I can’t pretend not to be aware of what is referred to as the blogosphere or the web.”
In an article on the ruling, Kraft wrote, “We hope, at this point, that Algonquin Township is getting tired of wasting tax dollars on irrelevant subpoenas, but only time will tell.”
A lawyer representing Algonquin Township, Illinois, filed a second subpoena to compel the file-hosting service Dropbox to produce information on an account belonging to the Edgar County Watchdogs, an Illinois-based government watchdog blog.
The subpoena, issued on Feb. 22, 2019, requested much of the same information as the first subpoena filed in January — the content, IP and email addresses of all users, users’ access histories, payment information and comments of the account.
The outlet is currently suing Algonquin Township for failing to provide records in response to 16 different public records requests, and the subpoena was issued in the context of that lawsuit.
Edgar County Watchdogs reported it filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which was heard in March.
“Illinois law protects media and reporters from things like this, but the Township Board has decided to keep piling on and incurring more legal bills,” blog co-founder John Kraft wrote. “Not just their own legal bills, but the township will also pay our legal bills when they lose this FOIA lawsuit.”
In March, a McHenry County Court judge granted a stay in the production of the requested materials until a ruling could be made on the motion to quash, Edgar County Watchdogs reported. The judge also confirmed that the first subpoena was quashed.
Edgar County Watchdogs shared court documents with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that show the motion to quash was denied on April 16, but the outlet filed a motion for the judge to reconsider.
Kraft told the Tracker that the subpoenas would have a serious impact on the outlet if it weren’t for the support of other organizations, like the Press Freedom Defense Fund.
“We do not have the money to hire an attorney and do the paperwork to fight these subpoenas. Without these grants we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Kraft said. “We’d have to roll over and give them what they ask for.”