Journalism organization: Raid on Marion, Kansas newspaper ‘blatantly illegal’ | Commentary

The Marion County Courthouse.

Joshua Wood

Special to The Eagle

The Board of Directors of the Kansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists condemns law enforcement officials, including the Marion City Police and Marion County Sheriff’s Department, and the Magistrate Court of Marion County for a blatantly illegal raid and seizure of intellectual property on Aug. 11 from the offices and journalists of the Marion County Record.

Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody has refused to publicly disclose any alleged crimes committed by journalists.

He has claimed he will be vindicated when all of the facts come out.

We ask that those facts be revealed immediately.

The entire world is watching.

Such a huge breach of the public trust is a dangerous affront to the entire system of checks and balances necessary in a healthy democracy.

According to reporting by the Kansas Reflector, “the raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving.”

We join Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, who said the police raid is unprecedented in Kansas.

“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” Bradbury said. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”

However, law enforcement could not have executed this illegal raid without the signing of a warrant by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.

The Kansas Professional Chapter of SPJ Board of Directors is particularly disappointed with the actions of Viar, which we assert violate established federal law protecting journalists and news organizations from searches and seizures of materials.

Federal law requires law enforcement to instead subpoena materials from journalists, a precedent that has been upheld by U.S. Supreme Court ruling dating back more than 45 years.

Viar, who was appointed as magistrate judge in November 2022, has displayed either a lack of knowledge or a blatant disregard for the law.

Either way, the citizens of Marion County and Kansas should be distressed at the judge for signing off on what is clearly an illegal raid.

We call on the 8th Judicial District Chief Judge Benjamin Sexton to rescind the illegal warrant and order the immediate return of materials to the Marion County Record and its employees.

Further, we believe Viar’s actions should be reviewed by the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct.

We join journalists and First Amendment supporters from around the world who are sounding the alarm of this attack on the foundation of American journalism.

Attempting to criminalize news gathering is beneath contempt and worthy of condemnation.

The shame of law enforcement and the courts of Marion County stain all Kansans and must never be repeated.

This statement was submitted by Molly McMillin, an aviation trade journalist and former Wichita Eagle reporter, and president of the Kansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, on behalf of the organization. At an emergency meeting Sunday night, SPJ also voted to purchase a full-page advertisement in the Marion County Record and run the statement there.

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