Meisner, Tribune Silence in Service to Anti-Police Lawyers?
Trib Reporter Jason Meisner Carries the Water for Paper’s Doomed Narrative
Attorneys for a former Cook County circuit court judge voted off the bench in November are making dire though familiar allegations against the Chicago media: that the press are acting as advocates for certain Chicago law firms that regularly sue police and prosecutors on behalf of “wrongfully convicted” clients.
Consider the statement by attorneys for former judge Matthew Coghlan, a defendant in a massive civil lawsuit claiming a man named Armando Serrano was coerced into confessing to a 1993 murder by Chicago detectives and Coghlan, who worked as an assistant state’s attorney at the time.
Here is what Coghlan’s attorneys had to say about Serrano’s attorneys and the Chicago media when Coghlan’s attorneys requested a protective order on a recent recorded deposition Coghlan gave in connection to the lawsuit:
Coghlan has a substantial concern that Plaintiffs will publicly disseminate the transcript and video (or cut or splice portions of them) in order to embarrass or harass him and to improperly influence the potential jury pool. The concern is not abstract or theoretical. To the contrary, prior to his deposition, Plaintiffs already started to try this case in the media, engaging in repeated media attacks against Coghlan specifically, and in some instances, misrepresenting the evidence in these cases. In addition, a number of the questions posed to Coghlan during his deposition had no relevance to the merits of the case and were designed solely to embarrass or harass him. What is more, Plaintiffs have failed to identify why they would have any need for disseminating the video and/or transcript of Coghlan’s deposition, leaving the clear implication that the sole purpose would be to embarrass and/or harass him and to try to influence the potential jury pool.
These are stunning accusations by Coghlan’s attorneys, but it is not the first time the media has been accused of being advocating on behalf of anti-police law firms. And it is certainly not the first time the media has been accused of using media pressure as a means of influencing these cases.
Here the spotlight moves directly to the Tribune and Jason Meisner, for Meisner is the federal court reporter for the paper. Meisner has remained silent about these allegations from the Coghlan camp in the Serrano case, the fact that Coghlan’s attorneys are alleging efforts to try the case in the media.
But the story is actually much deeper.
A few weeks ago, Coghlan’s attorneys filed a subpoena for records of certain Northwestern University students who worked on the Serrano case while enrolled in NU’s Medill School of Journalism. The subpoena is ominous because it quite likely taps into a body of evidence from Northwestern University pointing to corruption in the industry of freeing convicted killers and rapists on the claims of police misconduct.
What the subpoena quite likely taps into is evidence pointing to the dark methods that David Protess, a once-heralded, now-disgraced former Medill journalism professor, used in overturning convictions.
Allegations of misconduct against Protess and his students have surfaced since 2010, when he left the school in a scandal after Northwestern stated it had caught Protess altering evidence and lying about his investigations. Northwestern statement:
In sum, Protess knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions. He also misrepresented facts about these matters to students, alumni, the media and the public. He caused the University to take on what turned out to be an unsupportable case and unwittingly misrepresent the situation both to the Court and to the State.
Since then, two other federal lawsuits have subpoenaed evidence of a pattern of wrongdoing tied to Protess. The allegations are chilling, alleging that Protess ginned up false witness statements in case after case by the most sordid means, including using students to sexually entice statements from inmates. Here is a description of allegations from one of the lawsuits:
Witnesses from whom Protess procured recantations in other criminal cases have since come forward alleging that Protess and his team of investigators used coercion in various forms—dangling young female college students as sexual bait, impersonating movie producers, promising book/movie deals, making cash payments, and promising convicted murderers their freedom from prison—to procure false recantations from them.
This body of evidence against Protess and Northwestern is tied to the Serrano case itself. In a letter to former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, lawyers cited claims that “prosecutors have unearthed emails in the Serrano case which claim Protess brought a female student to a meeting with a jailed witness as a ‘treat.’ ”
Is this the evidence Coghlan’s attorneys are seeking in the civil case?
The mere fact that a former judge accused of conspiring with detectives to frame an innocent man is now subpoenaing records from one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the country is newsworthy, especially when that same journalism school has been under fire for the last eight years, isn’t it?
And what about Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel? Why does this evidence of corruption about accusing the police surface in their rationalization for imposing a consent decree on the Chicago Police Department? Why didn’t it surface in the investigation by the Department of Justice under Obama that was used to justify the imposition of the consent decree?
The media’s silence begs a question: Is the refusal of reporters like Jason Meisner, who covers the federal courts for the Chicago Tribune, a compelling sign that the media is advocating on behalf of attorneys to groom a narrative against Coghlan?