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State high court orders reporters to disclose confidential sources

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         ILLINOIS         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jan 24, 2000    

State high court orders reporters to disclose confidential sources

  • A special grand jury investigating perjury allegations leveled against a former mayor and former city commissioner is forcing two reporters to reveal the identity of sources who were promised anonymity.

Two reporters must reveal their confidential sources to a special grand jury, according to a mid-January ruling from the state Supreme Court in Springfield.

Belleville News-Democrat reporters George Pawlaczyk and Marilyn Vise must reveal their sources to a special grand jury convened to investigate perjury allegations regarding former Belleville mayor Roger Cook and former Belleville City Commissioner James Brede. Cook and Brede allegedly committed perjury during their testimony in a libel suit against the newspaper brought by former Belleville Police Chief Robert Hurst.

Although it recognized that Illinois allows “a qualified privilege of confidentiality for any source of information obtained by a reporter,” the court applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in Branzburg v. Hayes, and held that a “compelling public interest” was present, and consequently ordered the disclosure of the reporters’ sources to the special grand jury.

Applying Branzburg, the state Supreme Court noted that the reporters “do not allege that the subpoenas were issued to harass Pawlaczyk or Vise, or that the special grand jury was unlawfully convened.”

The case arose in November 1995 when Hurst was named by sources for the reporters as a suspect in a rape case. Hurst sued Cook, Brede, KMOV (Channel 4), and the newspaper in February 1996 for libel. Cook, Brede, and KMOV settled out of court with Hurst. The libel suit is currently pending against the newspaper.

In December 1996, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the alleged perjury of Cook and Brede. Vise and Pawlaczyk asserted their reporters’ privilege before the grand jury and refused to reveal whether Cook and Brede were their sources regarding the alleged Hurst rape. In December 1997, the circuit court in St. Clair County ordered the reporters to testify to the grand jury as to whether Cook and Brede were their sources.

(Illinois v. Pawlaczyk: Media counsel; Joseph E. Martineau, St. Louis)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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