Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star. September 6, 2023.
Editorial: Raid on Kansas newspaper is an intolerable overreach by police
Marion city police and the Marion County sheriff’s office did something on Friday that no government agency in America has any right to do.
They shut down a newspaper.
Those agencies raided the offices of the Marion County Record and the home of its owners, Eric Meyer and his mother, Joan. Police seized company-owned and personal computers and cell phones, and photographed personal documents on tables in the Meyer home.
The police action, involving at least four city officers and two sheriff’s deputies, also seized similar equipment and materials from the city’s vice mayor, Ruth Herbel.
Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody (more about him later) reinjured a dislocated finger of Record reporter Deb Gruver — a former Wichita Eagle reporter — when he personally snatched her cellphone from her hand during the raid.
The ransacking and seizures, which include the Record’s file server, directly threaten the ability of the Record to publish. The computer equipment seized contained the stories and ads that were scheduled for next week’s paper.
We could express our outrage at what is happening here.
But we probably couldn’t say it any better than the 98-year-old Joan Meyer, a newspaperwoman since 1953: “These are Hitler tactics and something has to be done.”
It turned out to be one of the last things she ever said. Mrs. Meyer complained of feeling upset and stressed by the invasion of her home when she spoke to us on Friday. Late Saturday, we received the sad news that she had collapsed at home and passed away.
According to a search warrant signed by Marion County Magistrate Laura Viar, the raid is related to an ongoing dispute between the paper and local restaurateur Kari Newell.
Newell has been seeking city approval of an application for a liquor license.
But records sent to the paper and Herbel by a confidential source indicated that she should be ineligible because she does not have a valid driver’s license due to a 2008 drunk-driving conviction and other violations. The paper checked those records through a publicly available website, but opted not to publish a story.
From the warrant, the crux of the police investigation seems to be whether the paper and its reporters committed identity theft and/or unlawful acts concerning computers in confirming Newell’s driving records. An affidavit justifying the warrant is being withheld by County Attorney Joel Ensey, whose brother owns the hotel where Newell has her restaurant.
The ordinary and proper way to pursue such a complaint would have been to subpoena the paper’s communications and records regarding Newell and let the courts decide what, if anything, the Record had to turn over.
Unpublished materials of a news gathering operation are generally protected by state and federal laws and a long line of First Amendment court decisions, but there are exceptions.
There could very well be more sinister motives in play here, involving the police chief himself.
Cody was hired by Marion in April, after taking an early retirement from the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, where he was a captain.
According to Eric Meyer, the Record has been actively investigating the circumstances surrounding Cody’s departure from the KCMO department. Friday’s raid gives Cody and his subordinates access to reporters’ notes and materials from confidential sources who were interviewed as part of the newspaper’s investigation.
Cody’s phone line does not accept voicemail and he did not return a message left for him with the city clerk.
There’s no way to put this toothpaste back in the tube, but there are several actions that need to be taken without delay:
1) Magistrate Viar, or the presiding district judge, should immediately revoke the overly broad search warrant she signed and declare that any evidence seized under it be inadmissible in court.
2) Viar or the district judge should order the immediate return of all equipment and materials seized.
3) Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach should take time out from his hobby of suing over “government overreach” from Washington, and conduct a full investigation of government overreach at home. That must include public disclosure of the circumstances of the raid and motivations behind it.
In the meantime, The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star stand ready to assist the Record in any way we can.
Topeka Capital-Journal. September 8, 2023.
Editorial: We can think of better ways for Kris Kobach to spend $120,000 on behalf of Kansans
Take a moment to look up the word bluster. The definition we found states that bluster is loud, aggressive or indignant talk with little effect.
Let that sit with you for a moment.
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has announced his office plans to hire a deputy attorney general for special litigation who will be tasked with primarily suing the federal government keeping true to his campaign promise to “Sue Joe Biden.”
“The Office of the Kansas Attorney General’s is establishing a Special Litigation & Constitutional Issues Division to, essentially, do public-interest litigation from inside the office,” the job posting states. “Mostly, this will involve bringing cases against the federal government. But we want aggressive and thoughtful litigators who take an entrepreneurial and opportunistic approach to protecting constitutional rights across the board.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Jason Alatidd reports the pay range is $105,000 to $120,000 a year.
That’s some expensive bluster.
Alatidd further reports the job posting comes as Kobach’s administration has struggled with understaffing, and the office’s attorneys have had to turn some cases over to local prosecutors while asking judges for deadline extensions in other cases.
As attorney general, Kobach is tasked as the state’s chief legal officer and top law enforcement official by the state constitution. Last time we checked suing Joe Biden or any sitting American president for political gain wasn’t mentioned in that document.
Kansas doesn’t need this taxpayer-funded bluster. We need attorneys who will enforce and defend the rule of law in our state. That can at times mean suing the federal government to address overreach, but we question how often that practice is necessary.
In May, Kobach boasted about how many lawsuits he’s brought forth against the Biden administration on behalf of the state. They range from protections for lesser prairie chickens, immigration policy, water regulation, pistol stabilizing braces and environmental social governance considerations in investments.
Let’s be clear here, we don’t support federal overreach — and we don’t support state overreach on local governments either. However, having a position primarily dedicated to suing the Biden administration seems a step too far.
Yes, Kris Kobach campaigned on this premise, but we can think of better uses for the money in an office that has struggled to hire enough attorneys to do productive work for Kansans.
Let’s fill the AG’s office with qualified attorneys who can and will help make our state better and safer. After all, a good attorney has little time for bluster.