By Seth Dukes
Earlier this month, Meade County Messenger Publisher Rena Singleton was subpoenaed to supply the identity of Conrad Doyle, an anonymous columnist for the newspaper since November of 2019, to the Meade County Grand Jury for the purpose of a criminal information submission. Counsel for Singleton quickly filed a motion to quash the subpoena, and the Commonwealth has now filed a response to Singleton’s motion.
In the filing, the Commonwealth asserts that Doyle’s name is required for a potential indictment. They say that an editorial by Doyle published in March concerning HB 202 “threatened physical violence.”
“Specifically, the editorial threatened, ‘I am licensed to carry concealed (the law no longer requires a license), but most people are not, and will not. I will invite you to take a few seconds to bend over and kiss your behind goodbye then I will indiscriminately perform a surgical procedure upon your personhood that will leave you a new canal, at or near your behind, if you intend to take anything including legally prescribed and medically necessary medications that do not belong to you!’” the Commonwealth cites in their filing.
The Commonwealth is requesting a protective order/modification of the Grand Jury Subpoena which requires an indictment by the Meade County Grand Jury, then disclosure by Rena Singleton, prior to the returns made in open court.
“If the Meade County Grand Jury returns a no true bill for Conrad [Doyle], no identity will be required in the interest of protecting the First Amendment,” the Commonwealth’s filing states.
The Commonwealth seems to assert that Doyle’s article threatened physical violence on a government leader.
“If informing a government leader that before they are shot they should contemplate the performance of a procedure creating a new hole near their anus on their dead body, if they support a specific bill is not in the progress of mankind but in fact chilling upon the operation of government,” the Commonwealth says in the filing.
Jon L. Fleischaker, with Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP, counsel for Singleton, disputes the Commonwealth’s filing, and has filed a reply in support of the motion to quash the subpoena. He says that the statement identified in the Commonwealth’s motion does not come close to meeting the definition of a “true threat” punishable by law and was not directed at a government leader.
“This is not a ‘threat’ to anyone specific,” Fleischaker writes. “It is rhetorical language, made to the world at large in a newspaper column, meant to convey a strong personal disapproval of illegal drug use. …The Commonwealth’s suggestion that any reasonable person would construe this language as an actual threat is absurd. Even more implausible is the Commonwealth’s claim that this language is a threat to a ‘government leader…if they support a specific bill.’ That is a blatant mischaracterization of the article and cannot justify the grand jury’s intrusion into protected First Amendment rights.”
Fleischaker also argues that the Commonwealth’s suggested protective order is insufficient to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the subpoena. He calls the Commonwealth’s “compromise” an “inadequate half-measure.”
“The Commonwealth’s proposal would require Ms. Singleton to disclose Doyle’s identity automatically if the grand jury returns an indictment,” says Fleischaker. “It is Kentucky’s courts — and not the grand jury — that decides whether an indictment can survive First Amendment scrutiny. This proposal is nothing less than a request that the court abdicate its judicial duty to enforce the Constitution.”
Singleton was initially scheduled to appear before the Meade County Grand Jury on April 13. However, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, that date is off the table. A future date has not been set.