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Chicago Tribune Sides with Patch Editor on Confidential Source Ruling

Newspaper editorial published Friday asserts that Will County Judge Gerald Kinney's ruling "is a very bad call."

The Chicago Tribune editorial board criticized a Will County judge's decision to hold Patch editor Joseph Hosey in contempt and force him to divulge the identity of a confidential source, saying in an editorial published Friday that the ruling should be overturned on appeal.

The editorial, published in the newspaper and online on Oct. 4, 2013, is excerpted here:

Weeks after a grisly double murder in Joliet, the online news site Patch.com began a jaw-dropping series of stories called "Nightmare on Hickory Street."

Among the details: Two of the four suspects — all of them now charged in the slayings — confessed to having sex on top of the victims' bodies. All four were high on pot and coke and kept partying after the murders. One of them wanted to keep the victims' teeth as trophies. ...

Lawyers for one of the defendants asked a judge to make Hosey explain how he got his hands on the records. Will County Judge Gerald Kinney ordered Hosey to turn over the documents and name his source — or go to jail.

The order, which is on hold pending an appeal, also includes a $1,000 fine plus $300 for each day that Hosey doesn't comply with the order.

Kinney's ruling strips Hosey of the protections of Illinois' reporters shield law. It is a very bad call. ...

Let's not lose sight of the ball here. This trial isn't about finding and punishing the source of the leak. It's about determining the guilt or innocence of four defendants. It's about assuring they get a fair trial.

Nobody has advanced a credible argument that any of that has been compromised by Hosey's refusal to name his source. There is no reason to believe that withholding the source's name could affect the trial's outcome.

The parties aren't happy about the pretrial publicity. Sensational news coverage can make it hard to seat an impartial jury. There are remedies for that, such as a change of venue. They are rarely necessary.

But the zeal to identify Hosey's source isn't about repairing any real or imagined damage to the jury pool. It's about finding and punishing the leaker. It's about stopping Hosey from writing more stories.

By extension, it's about discouraging future transactions between reporters and confidential sources. Despite what the judge and attorneys think, that is not in the public interest.

The Tribune joins several national journalism organizations that have publicly taken a stance decrying the judge's ruling and supporting Hosey's refusal to give up his source.

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