(CN) - A Seattle federal judge denied Chicago's third attempt to subpoena a journalist for her communications with a man exonerated of a murder conviction after spending 16 years in prison since his arrest at age 13.
District Judge Marsha Pechman wrote that she already quashed subpoenas Chicago tried to serve Carolyn Nielsen, and she granted Nielsen a protective order from the city's attempts at a "fishing expedition."
When Thaddeus Jimenez was exonerated of a 1995 murder conviction in 2009, Nielsen wrote a post on her personal blog about how she covered the trial against Jimenez, who was 13 at the time of his arrest. Nielsen says the pieces she wrote on Jimenez appeared in Medill Monitor, a quarterly magazine published by Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, where she was a graduate student.
Jimenez filed a lawsuit against Chicago and several police officers and detectives after his release from prison, and Chicago sought discovery from Jimenez and Nielsen, who is now a journalism professor at Western Washington University.
Pechman wrote that the city has failed to show a "compelling need" for Nielsen's records, which is necessary to overcome her claim of journalist's privilege.
"Defendants appear to be of the opinion that changed circumstances have superseded the restraints imposed by this order," Pechman wrote about the protective order she issued to Nielsen after quashing the city's last subpoena. "The court remains unconvinced."
She added that "nothing in their evidence or their argument supports" the claim that they have presented a compelling need and cannot obtain the requested materials from any other source.
The judge noted that the city has asked Nielsen to turn over her text messages and six specific letters that Jimenez allegedly wrote her. But Pechman wrote that according to deposition testimony that Jimenez gave, Chicago did not ask Jimenez about text message communications with Nielsen and asked him vaguely about "a letter" he sent Nielsen.
Chicago has also failed to specify what it hopes to find in Jimenez's communications with Nielsen, according to the ruling.
"Nothing in their latest request elevates this element of their current proof out of the realm of speculation," Pechman wrote. "After three motions and over 50 pages of briefing and exhibits, the court still has no idea what information Defendants contend they will obtain by examination of Nielsen or her correspondence. The conclusion that they are on a fishing expedition is inescapable."