Northwestern University fights subpoena for grades

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CHICAGO (AP) — News organizations, including The Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, filed court papers Monday supporting Northwestern University’s fight of a subpoena seeking the grades of journalism students who believe they’ve found an innocent man in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking grades, grading criteria and class records because they contend the students may have been motivated to find evidence of Anthony McKinney’s innocence to get better grades. McKinney is serving a life sentence for the 1978 murder of a security guard and is seeking a new trial.

Northwestern University’s attorneys filed a brief Monday asking Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Cannon to throw out the subpoena.

The media outlets also filed a brief, arguing that student journalists are entitled to the same protections as working reporters. The Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists filed a similar brief.

Prosecutors have claimed the journalism students paid two witnesses in order to make their case that McKinney was wrongly convicted.

In Monday’s filing, Northwestern’s attorneys reiterated that the alleged bribe was instead cab fare.

The students were involved in the Medill Innocence Project in which they investigated cases leading to convictions.

The newspapers and broadcasters filing the brief Monday included Hearst Corp., the New York Times Co., CBS Broadcasting and the Washington Post.

“Journalism schools are really the breeding grounds for students who are going to go out and work in the newsrooms in the country and these kinds of investigations are part of the journalism process,” said the media outlets’ attorney, David Sanders of the Chicago law firm of Jenner and Block.

Sally Daly, spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said the student journalists “spent nearly three years conducting a criminal investigation in which they tracked down and interviewed witnesses without publishing any information for public consumption.”

The students’ purpose “was not to report and write stories about Anthony McKinney but rather to assist the defense seeking to free him from prison.”