South Bend Tribune by Christian Scheckler
February 28, 2019
SOUTH BEND — A federal judge this week rejected the city of Elkhart’s attempt to force the South Bend Tribune to turn over records of its reporting on Keith Cooper, the Illinois man who is suing the city over his wrongful conviction in a 1996 robbery and shooting.
Lawyers for the city issued the subpoena in June, amid an investigation by The Tribune and ProPublica, a nonprofit news agency, into the flawed investigation that led to the convictions of Cooper and another man, Christopher Parish.
The subpoena sought records of communications between Tribune journalists, Cooper and his lawyer. In subsequent filings, the city alleged The Tribune was conspiring with Cooper to write stories that advanced his lawsuit against the city.
In his order quashing the subpoena, however, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch said Elkhart’s “suspicions about a conspiracy…are not supported by the evidence currently before the Court.”
Martin Kus, a lawyer representing the city in Cooper’s lawsuit, did not respond Wednesday to an email or a phone message left at his office.
Emails and text messages already turned over by Cooper’s lawyer did not indicate a conspiracy between Cooper and The Tribune, even though the city framed the exchanges that way, Gotsch wrote.
“The City views the communications…through a cynical lens that sees conspiracy behind every corner,” Gotsch wrote.
The judge pointed to one email exchange between a Tribune reporter and Cooper’s attorney, arranging what the city’s lawyer described as a meeting to “plan strategy to advance their mutual interests.”
In fact, Gotsch wrote, the emails discussed neither “strategy” nor “mutual interests,” and were simply a journalist’s attempt to schedule an interview with a source knowledgeable about the topic of his reporting.
“The City cites…other examples of communications that it interprets as evidence of conspiracy,” Gotsch wrote, “when they simply reflect a reporter doing what a reporter does — pursuing sources with information about the story, identifying inconsistencies in a story and confronting the relevant characters with that information, giving both sides to a story a chance to be heard.”