November 4th, 2009
Quash subpoenas, educators tell judge
By Jeff South
Prosecutors in Illinois have subpoenaed the “grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages” of Northwestern University journalism students who investigated whether a man convicted of murder three decades ago had been wrongfully convicted.
According to a story in The New York Times, the prosecutors want to know whether the students, part of the Medill Innocence Project, were offered grades or other incentives to turn up evidence in favor of the man’s innocence.
The Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court is scheduled to hold a hearing this month on the issue.
On Tuesday, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications said it “strongly urges the judge responsible for this case to quash the subpoena and direct prosecutors to investigate the evidence uncovered by the journalism students in a timely and unbiased way.”
AEJMC said the prosectors’ request for subpoenas was is inappropriate for three reasons:
1) The Medill journalism students should be protected under the Illinois state shield law;
2) If the court grants the prosecutors’ request, journalism students involved with similar projects would think twice about criticizing governmental actions if personal information, such as grades and e-mails, could become public; and
3) Journalists should not be treated as instruments of the State.