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Judge H. Lee Sarokin Headshot

Gestapo Knocks at Door of Northwestern University Journalism School

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I am always offended and annoyed with the labeling of some recent conduct or person with Nazism or Hitler or drawing analogies with the Holocaust and thereby belittling those horrific events in our history with some current less appalling and even minor occurrences. But I truly believe that the attempt of prosecutors to subpoena "the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of their journalism students themselves" at Northwestern University warrants and deserves the Gestapo label.

It is a flagrant attempt to intimidate the Medill Innocence Project and other similar projects which have been so successful in overturning wrongful convictions. The alleged justification is that the prosecutors want to determine "whether students believed that they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate Mr. McKinney." So I take it that would mean that every time a detective obtained incriminating evidence, his entire background could be examined in order to determine his motives when interviewing a witness; whether he had received or expected a raise or a promotion; and if so whether he needed money; how much his debt was; what he was paying for rent and alimony, etc. In other words, the scope of the investigation would be extended to the motives of the investigator rather than the witness being investigated and interrogated.

Then there is the equally significant question of whether information directly relating to the guilt or innocence of the defendant can be sought from student journalists. Whether there is or should be a reporter's privilege has been the subject of great debate. If the prosecutor here were seeking incriminating (rather than exonerating) evidence derived from the student interviews, I would gladly withdraw my Gestapo label. At least in that instance, their purpose, but not necessarily their legal position, would be justified and acceptable. But the effort to investigate the students themselves warrants that label. The spokesperson for the prosecutor's office defends its actions:

"At the end of the day, all we're seeking is the same thing these students are: justice and truth." Rather it seems that they are trying to suppress the truth and subvert justice.