June 16, 2024
The city’s insurance provider, EMC Insurance, has hired a private law firm to conduct an investigation, city attorney Brian Bina has said, though he did not say whether the results of the probe will be made public.

By Whitney Wild, Elizabeth Wolfe and Andy Rose | CNN

The judge who signed off on a search warrant authorizing the raid of a newspaper office in Marion, Kansas, is facing a complaint about her decision and has been asked by a judicial body to respond, records shared with CNN by the complainant show.

Kansas resident Keri Strahler filed the complaint against Judge Laura Viar about a week after police raided the office of the Marion County Record, the home of the paper’s publisher and a county councilwoman, seizing reporters’ cell phones and computers, among other items, in a move that drew widespread condemnation from news organizations and press freedom advocates.

The complaint requests the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct to review “Viar’s mental capacity in her decision to seemingly circumvent federal and state law” when she signed off on the search warrant for the newspaper office, according to a copy of the complaint provided by Strahler.

The commission has asked Viar to respond to the complaint, which its members have slated for consideration on November 3, according to a letter from the commission’s secretary, Douglas T. Shima, to Strahler.

CNN has reached out to Viar and the commission for comment.

The warrants were executed as part of an investigation into “identity theft” and “unlawful acts concerning computers,” according to unsealed search warrant affidavits. Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody suggested in his affidavits that the raids were based on the belief that reporter Phyllis Zorn unlawfully obtained the driving records of local restaurant owner Kari Newell before the paper published a story about her.

But the county’s top prosecutor withdrew the search warrants days after the raids due to “insufficient evidence” and said authorities would return the seized items.

The Record’s publisher, Eric Meyer, said the newspaper has been “vindicated” by the reversal after the raid was widely criticized as a violation of the paper’s First Amendment rights.

The city’s insurance provider, EMC Insurance, has hired a private law firm to conduct an investigation, city attorney Brian Bina has said, though he did not say whether the results of the probe will be made public.

Reporter sues police chief over raid

Marion County Record reporter Debbie Gruver filed a federal lawsuit against Cody last week accusing the chief of violating her constitutional rights by obtaining an “unreasonable and unlawful” search warrant and seizing her personal property, according to the complaint.

Gruver accuses Cody in the suit of targeting her because he knew she had been investigating allegations of misconduct against the chief during his time working for the Kansas City Police Department, although the newspaper has not published those allegations.

“Such acts were done by Chief Cody in retaliation for Ms. Gruver exercising her protected rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as a reporter for the Record, which protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” the lawsuit states.

In addition to having her computer seized, Gruver says Cody physically seized her personal cell phone from her, which the suit argues did not fall under the scope of the warrant.

By seizing the personal cell phone, the suit states, Cody violated Gruver’s Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable search or seizure.

Cody did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.

On August 12, shortly after the raid gained national attention, the police department posted on Facebook, “As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot. I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”

The department has declined further comment on the search, referring questions to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is conducting its own inquiry.

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