U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Subpoena issued for watchdog blog’s documents, communications

Incident Details

Date of Incident
February 7, 2020

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the Feb. 7, 2020, subpoena requesting communication from the Illinois watchdog group Edgar County Watchdogs.

— Screenshot
April 11, 2024 - Update

Watchdog blog sends objections, ignores subpoena

An attorney for the Edgar County Watchdogs sent objections in March 2020 to a subpoena issued to the Illinois-based government watchdog blog, co-founder John Kraft told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in April 2024. The outlet never received a response and ignored the demands of the subpoena.

Former Stark County Board Vice Chairman Fulvio Zerla subpoenaed the Edgar County Watchdogs as part of his lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Steve Sloan, seeking documents, notes, photographs and communications concerning three county board meetings in 2017.

Kraft wrote to the Tracker via email that after sending the letter with objections, their attorney told them, “The ball is in [Zerla’s] court. If we hear nothing further then that’s a win.”

Kraft confirmed to the Tracker that Zerla did not respond, so he believes the subpoena was withdrawn.

February 7, 2020

Illinois-based government watchdog blog Edgar County Watchdogs was subpoenaed on Feb. 7, 2020, for documents and communications relating to coverage of the Stark County board and sheriff.

Former Stark County Board Vice Chairman Fulvio Zerla brought a lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Steve Sloan, accusing Sloan of violating his civil rights. The county is part of the larger Peoria metropolitan area.

Zerla’s complaint, which was reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, also alleges that Sloan paid Edgar County Watchdogs to attend a board meeting in June 2017 to “disrupt” the proceedings.

Edgar County Watchdogs co-founder John Kraft flatly denied Zerla’s accusations and that they had been paid at any time.

“All we did was attend the meeting and we bring our video camera with us everywhere we go,” Kraft told the Tracker. “We attended the meeting and we told the board that they didn’t comply with the Illinois county code requirement to post about the meeting in the newspaper, and the sheriff came and shut the meeting down.”

The subpoena orders Edgar County Watchdogs to produce documents, notes, photographs and communications relating to three board meetings in mid-2017, the Sheriff Department’s budget, plaintiff Zerla, former board Chairwoman Coleen Magnussen and defendant Sloan.

Zerla’s attorney did not immediately respond to the Tracker’s request for comment.

Kraft told the Tracker that their attorney is filing for an extension on the Feb. 27 deadline for producing the documents, and they intend to fight the production of any documents.

The Tracker has documented multiple other subpoenas involving Edgar County Watchdogs, including a subpoena for their communications and documents relating to the College of DuPage and two subpoenas for the group’s Dropbox contents.

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