Judge rejects Elkhart's subpoena for newspaper records in Keith Cooper case

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected the City of Elkhart's attempt to force a newspaper to turn over records of its reporting on a Chicago man who was pardoned after a decade in prison and is suing the Indiana city for wrongful conviction.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch ruled this week that the city's subpoena against the South Bend Tribune was "misplaced."

The issue began after the South Bend Tribune and nonprofit news agency ProPublica published an investigation into the wrongful conviction of 51-year-old Keith Cooper.

Cooper was convicted in a 1996 robbery in Elkhart but was pardoned in February 2017 by Gov. Eric Holcomb, who cited new DNA evidence pointing to another suspect and a witness recanting testimony.

The city's subpoena sought records of communications between Tribune journalists, Cooper and Cooper's lawyer. It alleged the newspaper was biased and working with Cooper to further his lawsuit against the city.

Martin Kus, a lawyer representing the city, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Gotsch said the city's suspicions about a conspiracy aren't supported by evidence, The Tribune reported.

"The City cites ... examples of communications that it interprets as evidence of conspiracy," Gotsch wrote, "when they simply reflect a reporter doing what a reporter does — pursuing sources with information about the story, identifying inconsistencies in a story and confronting the relevant characters with that information, giving both sides to a story a chance to be heard."

Gotsch also noted that the city and police officers named in the suit didn't have their viewpoints featured in the newspaper because they declined to speak to reporters.

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