A journalism teacher at Western Washington University whose reporting on a Chicago murder case helped free a man convicted as a teenager of the 1993 crime need not turn over her notes to the police officers accused of framing him, says a federal judge’s ruling reported by the Seattle Times. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said the officers must pay the attorneys fees for Carolyn Nielsen, who wrote about the case of Thaddeus Jimenez in 1994 while she was a graduate student at the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Jimenez, who was 14 when he was convicted of the fatal street shooting of an 18-year-old Chicago man, served 16 years in prison before he was exonerated last year with the help of attorneys who became interested in the case because of Nielsen’s reporting. He was freed and Nielsen celebrated his release on a personal blog in which she wrote that she still had her notes and correspondence with Jimenez from the case. Jimenez sued the Chicago Police Department for false arrest. The attorneys for some of the officers learned of Nielsen’s blog and subpoenaed her notes, letters from Jimenez and other documents she gathered while reporting on the story. Pechman applied case law followed in the 9th Circuit – which includes Washington state – that says there is a privilege for people who gather or receive information for publication. That precedent states that a journalist’s notes can’t be sought until all efforts to obtain the information elsewhere have been exhausted.