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Patch.com editor Joseph Hosey will not have to identify his source used in reporting on a double murder last year in a Chicago suburb, the Columbia Journalism Review reported.

An attorney for one of the four defendants in the murder trial wanted to know where Hosey got police reports that described “the grisly details of the crime,” arguing that the source’s anonymity negatively affected the defendant’s trial,

As part of his defense, Hosey pointed out Illinois has “qualified” status for journalists. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “The court will not order access to the information unless all other sources for obtaining the information have been exhausted and disclosure of the information sought is essential to the protection of the public interest.”

This month’s “appellate judges reversed a lower-court ruling that found Hosey in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the source who leaked police records in a gruesome double-murder case,” CJR reported.

Patch.com’s Lauren Traut reported Dec. 15 that Hosey’s fight for his source lasted “more than a year.”

“Hosey faced jail time and thousands of dollars in fines,” according to Traut.

Appellate Judge Daniel Schmidt said, according to Patch, “I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around. . . how disclosing (the source) has any effect on the trial itself.”

Hosey said he was “incredibly grateful” to everyone “who supported me” in his battle.  “Thirty-nine news media organizations filed a friend of the court brief supporting Hosey,”  according to Patch. “The National Press Club awarded Hosey the National Press Freedom Award.”

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In an e-mail to IMediaEthics, Hosey wrote:

“I’m happy with the decision and incredibly grateful to my attorneys, Ken Schmetterer and Joe Roselius, as well as to everyone at Patch and those in the media and public who supported me. Thank you all.”

Hosey’s lawyer, Kenneth Schmetterer, told iMediaEthics, “We were gratified but not surprised by the Illinois Appellate Court ruling.  Joe Hosey violated no laws and was not even accused of having information relevant to the merits of the trial he covered.  The Appellate Court ruling reinforces the protections appropriately given to journalists that are necessary for a vigorous press protected against unwarranted compelled disclosures of confidential source information.”

The National Press Club issued a press release statement about the ruling. “We at the National Press Club are pleased that a reporter whose cause we championed has been vindicated for his courage,” NPC President Myron Belkind is quoted as saying. “However, this case still illustrates why it is important for Washington to enact a strong federal shield law that would protect reporters and their sources and bolster the public’s right to be informed while, at the same time, protecting criminal justice and national security.”

Read Hosey’s coverage of the double murders.

The appellate court ruling is here.

In a more publicized case, New York Times reporter James Risen’s battle to protect his source has been in the news this past month. Risen has been subpoaened to testify at a hearing next month.

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Patch Editor Can Protect Anonymous Source, Illinois Appellate Court rules

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