Wednesday, April 13, 2011

David Protess Calls for Independent Investigation

David Protess issued a press release earlier this evening about his academic freedom case at Northwestern:

April 14, 2011
For Immediate Release

Protess Calls for Independent and Public Review

David Protess, Professor of Journalism at Northwestern University and President of the fledgling Chicago Innocence Project, called today for an independent review of the Medill Innocence Project and his actions as its director, saying the results of the review should be made public.

Since last October, three former federal prosecutors have been investigating the innocence project at the behest of Northwestern officials. Their report has remained secret, though Provost Daniel Linzer and Dean John Lavine revealed portions of it at a private meeting of the Medill faculty, from which Protess was excluded. According to sources at the meeting, the provost and dean showed a dozen or so redacted email messages from the more than a thousand exchanged during an investigation of a wrongful conviction case involving Anthony McKinney.

No students, alumni or senior faculty were interviewed by the former prosecutors, who now are partners at Jenner & Block, a firm hired by Northwestern to respond to a subpoena issued by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

"The former prosecutors' review was completely lacking in transparency," Protess said. "I will participate fully in any independent review that makes its findings available to the public." Protess added that if the university is unwilling to cooperate, he will publicly release all 26,600 "hits" from the imaged hard drives of his work and home computers to help the review team decide whether any improprieties occurred during the reporting of the McKinney case.

Protess said the independent review team should be chosen by Northwestern's Faculty Senate and ideally include representation from students, alums and professors, as well as at least one director of a journalism innocence project and a professional organization of journalists, such as Investigative Reporters & Editors.

Among the questions the review team might address:

1. Did Protess knowingly mislead the university during the litigation surrounding the McKinney case or others? Was his conduct inconsistent with widely accepted standards for investigative reporting or administering an innocence project in a university setting?

2. Did Dean Lavine suspend Protess from teaching and replace him as director of the Medill Innocence Project in retaliation for Protess's acknowledged role in exposing the dean's alleged fabrication of quotes in a magazine article? Did the suspension violate university rules and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) guidelines?

3. Did Provost Linzer have a conflict-of-interest in deciding a matter in which his spouse is the Associate Director of the Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, whose handling of documents from Protess was a hotly contested issue in the McKinney case? Was former U. S. Attorney Anton R. Valukas, the head of the Jenner & Block investigative team, biased because of his numerous affiliations with the Law School? Was Northwestern's General Counsel, Thomas Cline, a law school alumnus and donor, similarly biased?

Protess is on leave from Northwestern to establish the Chicago Innocence Project, a nonprofit investigative reporting group whose mission is to expose and remedy the problem of wrongful convictions.

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