The unprecedented police raid on a local Kansas newspaper sparked a wave of criticism across the nation against the apparent attack on the First Amendment. Members of law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office have been facing scrutiny over the raid and the warrant that was signed allowing police to ransack the Marion County Record newspaper’s office and that of one of its co-founders. Judge Laura Viar, who signed off on the warrant, is now the subject of a misconduct complaint.
This development indicates the possibility that there might be a glimmer of accountability coming to the judge. But what about the other officials who were involved in the raid? It is not yet clear whether there will be real consequences for those who participated in the circumstances surrounding law enforcement’s actions.
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.
The timeline of the events reads somewhat like a James Patterson thriller, but without the serial killers. Law enforcement raided the offices of the newspaper and the home of one of the co-founders. They confiscated everything from cell phones, computers, and other equipment, disrupted the newspaper’s operations, and jeopardized its ability to publish.
The raids were ostensibly a part of an investigation into “identity theft.” Law enforcement supposedly suspected that one of the newspaper reporters had posed as a local restaurant owner when obtaining information regarding her driving record from a local Kansas public database. The journalist was attempting to verify a confidential tip alleging that Kari Newell, the restaurateur, had a DUI on her record.
The story became even more controversial after footage emerged showing police officers raiding the home of Joan Meyer, co-owner of the newspaper, a 98-year-old woman and the mother of the other owner, Eric Meyer. Unfortunately, Joan Meyer passed away the day after the raid due to the stress of the ordeal, according to her son, who described law enforcement’s actions as “Gestapo” tactics.
The prosecutor later withdrew the warrant, noting that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to have justified issuing it in the first place. He ordered the police to return all of the equipment they
stole confiscated. This raised questions as to why the warrant was signed in the first place. In a rather ironic development, Judge Viar had reportedly been arrested for driving under the influence in the past.
The issue is not just about a single newspaper that was targeted for a story they might have published. Rather, it is about the broader implications for members of the press – especially at the local level. If officials can carry out such violations of natural and Constitutional rights without the fear of consequences, the future of journalistic freedom could be at risk. The ramifications of a case like this could be highly deleterious to liberty.
This is why the officials who allegedly engaged in wrongdoing in this affair should face serious consequences for their actions. They targeted the news outlet with impunity. Judge Viar should be facing a misconduct complaint – but it can’t stop there. The reason these people get away with behaving in this manner is because they believe nobody will care enough to stop them. Hopefully, the community does not prove them right.