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Two reporters continue court battles to keep sources confidential

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Two journalists in separate cases continue their battles in court to keep their sources confidential. An Illinois judge is expected…

Two journalists in separate cases continue their battles in court to keep their sources confidential.

An Illinois judge is expected to file a contempt charge against Patch.com reporter Joe Hosey. The reporter's attorney, Kenneth Schmetterer, told Will County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Kinney on Tuesday that Hosey has no plans to reveal his confidential source in a series of stories that he wrote about a double murder in the town of Joliet.

Schmetterer told Kinney to go ahead and rule on the contempt charge so he could file the appeal. The judge thanked the attorney for his candor, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's opinion and think this shield law should apply," Schmetterer said in an interview. A shield law protects reporters from revealing their sources in court under certain circumstances.

Last week, Kinney gave Hosey 21 days to hand over notes and documents relating to his confidential source. If the documents do not reveal the source's identity, Kinney said Hosey would have to write an affidavit detailing how he received the notes and from whom.

The Illinois chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists posted a statement on its website supporting Hosey and calling on the judge to withdraw the order.

“The ability of a journalist to protect his/her sources when necessary is a crucial tool in the collection of information to establish facts and verify truth," according to the statement posted by the Chicago Headline Club chapter of SPJ.

Defense attorneys were concerned that the murder details published by Hosey could influence a jury, according to news reports. Hosey published details from police reports that were not publicly available involving the strangulation deaths of Eric Glover and Terrance Rankin.

Defense attorney Neil Patel declined to comment.

In another case involving reporters' confidential sources, Jana Winter, the Fox News reporter who covered the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., was granted a motion for an expedited appeal in the New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday. Her New York appeal will be heard Nov. 12.

Days after the theater shooting that left 12 dead, Winter reported that the accused gunman, James Holmes, mailed his psychiatrist a notebook containing violent images. She cited two anonymous law enforcement officials in her story.

Holmes' attorneys argued that publication of the information violated the blanket gag order issued immediately after the shooting. A Colorado court then asked a New York court to issue the subpoena for Winter to appear before a Colorado courtroom.

The Colorado court on Sept. 3 granted Winter's motion to continue her hearing until Jan. 3, which allows the parties to wait until Winter's separate appeal with the New York court has concluded.

“Given the real possibility that Winter may face indefinite jail time in this case as a remedial sanction for her refusal to disclose her confidential sources, and given further the significant First Amendment interests of Winter and the public, the Court concludes that Winter should be afforded the opportunity to exhaust all 3 avenues to obtain appellate relief from Judge Stephen's decision,” wrote Judge Carlos Samour in his Sept. 3 ruling.

If the New York court rejects the subpoena, Winter will not be forced to reveal her sources in Colorado.

In April, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in an affidavit urged the court to carefully apply the qualified privilege under the Colorado shield law, to allow reporters like Winter to fully report on a case that is of great interest to the public. The Reporters Committee also led a media coalition in filing an amicus brief before New York's high court last week.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Brief: Affidavit in support of Fox News reporter Jana Winter