The Watch

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Chicago's Media Advocates To Be Tested In The Courts?

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Is the Chicago media’s transformation from journalism to “media advocacy” going to be tested in the courts?

In three key cases, it might be.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has been writing about the Anthony Porter case for decades, claiming for much of that time Porter was innocent of a 1982 double murder that sent him to death row. Part of the argument that led to Porter’s release included claims of police misconduct.

But now Zorn’s narrative is being challenged in a federal lawsuit. The plaintiff is Alstory Simon, the man whose bizarre confession to the murders in 1999 paved the way for Porter’s release. In his lawsuit, Simon’s attorneys argue that his 1999 confession was coerced by former Northwestern professor David Protess and Private Investigator Paul Ciolino. Simon’s claims of innocence ultimately spurred his release from prison in 2014 after a year-long investigation of his case by former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

In releasing Simon, Alvarez had no kind words for the actions of Protess and Ciolino.

Simon’s lawyers allege that biased and irresponsible media coverage played a key role in getting Porter out and Simon convicted.

But now the media is under fire for other reasons. Simon’s attorneys argued in June that members of the media, including Zorn, violated a protective order in the case when they published contents of protected documents.

According to Simon’s attorneys:

This Court must enforce its orders to prevent the parties and counsel from seeking to influence the jury pool by exploiting protective orders as both a sword and a shield in order to selectively release and discuss those pieces of information which they deem, rightly or wrongly, as supportive of their position…

 …the intentional violation of the Court’s protective order in connection with the Valentini memo has revealed a calculated and stunning lack of respect for the Court’s authority, perpetrated by someone who was fully confident that defendants’ media advocates would protect their identities and cover-up their blatant disregard of the Court’s Orders.

Simon’s attorneys called the release of the information and the coverage of it a “charade,” adding that it could unfairly influence juries. They coined a compelling phrase to describe journalists who released such protected information that only presented one side of the case: “media advocates.”

Another troubling case suggesting media advocacy has also emerged. This one also alleges publishing protected documents in a manner that may have misled the public.

This one occurred in the 2015 criminal trial against Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans. The nine-count criminal indictment against Evans stemmed, in large part, from the release of a State Police DNA report. The test was conducted the day after Evans arrested a known gang member in 2013 when he observed the man with a pistol.

The gang member claimed Evans shoved his pistol into the offender’s mouth during the course of the arrest. The DNA test was conducted by the agency that investigated police misconduct, IPRA, ostensibly to explore the allegations against Evans by testing his gun for DNA.

But during the course of Evans’ criminal trial, evidence emerged that an IPRA investigator illegally released the DNA test results to WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell, who reported them. Attorneys for Evans allege Mitchell reported the test results as if they were evidence of Evans’ guilt. Evans’ report created a kind of media hysteria when other media outlets also carried Mitchell’s story.

But then Evans was acquitted of all charges. Circuit Court Judge Diane Cannon ruled that the DNA discovered on Evans gun could easily have been the result of his contact with the offender during the arrest. Expert testimony in the case called it “touch” DNA - in no way conclusive of misconduct by Evans. Other aspects of the case also fell apart during the trial, leading some to wonder how Evans could have even been indicted to begin with.

Since his acquittal, Evans has filed a lawsuit in connection with the case, attacking the release of the confidential DNA report and the coverage of it. In doing so, a question emerges: Was Mitchell acting as a “media advocate?”

Now comes a third case. This time it involves Jamie Kalven, a member of the anti-police publication, The Invisible Institute.

The attorney for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, Daniel Herbert, has requested that Kalven explain how he obtained leaked documents in the case.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Van Dyke’s lead lawyer, Daniel Herbert, alleged Tuesday, Oct. 17 that the journalist Jamie Kalven obtained leaked documents about the shooting shortly after McDonald’s death in 2014…

Judge Vincent Gaughan noted in court that the law generally protects reporters from having to testify about sources except in certain circumstances. But the judge said he was intrigued by Herbert’s characterization of the journalist’s involvement and the possibility that the leaks may have come from the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that, until recently, investigated police shootings and other misconduct allegations.

“He got the name (of a witness) allegedly from IPRA,” Gaughan said. “I think we have to clear up that, so he will be testifying.”

Is this another instance of IPRA illegally releasing information against a Chicago Police Officer? The accusation that Judge Gaughan says needs to be investigated is strikingly similar to accusations about the release of information from IPRA to WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell in the Glenn Evans case. And, if the allegations prove true, some basic questions need to be asked: How did Kalven get such information? Why would IPRA release it to a journalist with such an intense anti-police platform? Did IPRA violate constitutional rights in releasing the info?

News reports have quoted Kalven as saying he would refuse to reveal his sources if compelled to testify.

In the Evans case, Mitchell tried to stay off the stand by claiming reporter’s privilege,  but Judge Cannon ruled that he must testify if called to the stand.

So, will Kalven be forced to testify, and, if so, what will his statements reveal about “media advocates” in Chicago?