Reporter won’t be forced to reveal source

Patch's Joseph Hosey wins appeal as court preserves principles of Illinois shield law

CHICAGO, IL — An Illinois appellate court sided Monday with editor Joseph Hosey in his fight to conceal the identity of a confidential source—a ruling that preserves the principles of the state’s shield law.

The appellate judges reversed a lower-court ruling that found Hosey in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the source who leaked police records in a gruesome double-murder case. The ruling spares Hosey from indefinite jail time and crippling fines.

The case stems from a series of articles Hosey wrote about the 2013 double murder, dubbed the “Nightmare on Hickory Street,” in Joliet, a suburb southwest of Chicago. In detailing the grisly details of the crime, Hosey made extensive use of police reports he had obtained.

That led attorneys for Bethany McKee, one of the four defendants, to argue that her fair-trial rights had been violated. A lower-court judge agreed and ordered Hosey to give up the identity of his source.

But Hosey balked—and found himself in “minor direct criminal contempt.” In his appeal, Hosey made a number of arguments based on the state’s shield law, which provides “qualified” protections to journalists—unless a court finds that the requested information is relevant, essential to protect the public interest, and unavailable through any other means.

This summer, while Hosey’s appeal was pending, McKee and another defendant were convicted for murder. One defendant, meanwhile, pleaded to lesser charges in exchange for testifying against the others, and a fourth defendant is still awaiting trial.

And finally, this week, the appellate court ruled in Hoseys’s favor: “Because the identity of Hosey’s source cannot be said to [be] relevant to a fact of consequence to the first degree murder allegations, we hold that the circuit court erred when it granted the motion for divestiture,” a three-judge panel ruled. 

The ruling is an “affirmation of a reporter’s right to not be forced to disclose confidential source information without a petitioner satisfying the very stringent burden that the law requires,” said Ken Schmetterer, an attorney for Hosey.

Hosey could not be reached for comment. But, in a story, he described himself as “happy with the decision and incredibly grateful to my attorneys, Ken Schmetterer and Joe Roselius, as well as to everyone at Patch and those in the media and public who supported me.”

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Rui Kaneya is CJR's correspondent for Illinois and Indiana. A former investigations editor at The Chicago Reporter, Kaneya was a recipient of the Investigative Reporters and Editors Minority Fellowship and the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Minority Fellowship in Urban Journalism. He has received numerous journalism awards, among them the Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists’ Salute to Excellence National Media Award. Follow him on Twitter @ruikaneya.