U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

St. Joseph News-Press news director deposed after reporting on hospital lawsuit

Incident Details

June 2, 2022

A regional medical center in St. Joseph, Missouri, subpoenaed St. Joseph News-Press News Director Steven Booher and a reporter on June 2, 2022, after the newspaper reported on an ongoing worker’s compensation lawsuit against the hospital.

On May 18, the News-Press published an article on a discrimination and worker’s compensation lawsuit filed against Heartland Regional Medical Center, operating as Mosaic Life Care, by a former employee who sustained an injury while working as a medical technician and was later terminated from the hospital.

According to Kansas City NPR-affiliate KCUR, the New-Press’ reporting referenced a spreadsheet showing the number of employees injured while working at the hospital and were later terminated or let go. A judge sanctioned Mosaic during the trial for discrepancies found in the spreadsheet.

The hospital issued Booher a subpoena for reporting materials and to sit for a deposition, arguing that Booher and Clayton Anderson, the News-Press reporter who wrote the article, received confidential information from the plaintiff’s lawyers. In his deposition on June 14, Booher refused to produce unpublished and unaired materials gathered while reporting on the lawsuit. According to the transcript, reviewed by the Tracker, he said the News-Press would consider producing the materials if ordered to by a judge. Neither Booher nor the lawyers representing Mosaic Life Center responded to requests for comment.

The plaintiff’s lawyer E.E. Keenan, who was not representing Booher but was present during the deposition, asked Booher if subpoenas issued to reporters had the potential to have a chilling effect on journalism.

“It would. It would definitely have that effect, and most likely it would affect our news judgment about stories that we do cover, and eventually it would have a detrimental effect on our business,” Booher said in the deposition.

Keenan objected to the subpoenas during the depositions. “The news media should be free, under the First Amendment, to do their job without having to go through something like this,” he said.

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