A Meade County grand jury convened Monday and returned no true bill on the Meade County Messenger’s anonymous columnist known as “Conrad Doyle.”
On March 9, the publisher of the Meade County Messenger, Rena Singleton, was subpoenaed to appear before a Meade County grand jury on April 13 to reveal the identity of Doyle. Doyle’s identity was sought for “the purpose of a criminal information submission to the Meade County Grand Jury,” according to the subpoena.
Doyle has been writing anonymous columns for the newspaper since November of 2019.
Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP, counsel for Singleton, filed a motion to quash the subpoena on March 12, saying that it violates both Kentucky’s source-protection statute and the U.S. and Kentucky Constitutions.
The Commonwealth then filed a response to the motion to quash, saying that an editorial by Doyle published in March concerning HB 202 “threatened physical violence.” The Commonwealth also requested a protective order/modification of the grand jury subpoena which required an indictment by the Meade County grand jury, then disclosure by 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.
Jon L. Fleischaker, with Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP, disputed the Commonwealth’s filing and filed a reply in support of the motion to quash the subpoena.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, grand jury convenings were postponed for months. Singleton says that she was never alerted that Doyle would be on the docket for Monday’s convening.
Michael Abate, with Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird, says that the no true bill is “the absolutely right result.”
“The grand jury should never have issued a subpoena trying to compel disclosure of the name of somebody exercising protected First Amendment activity to speak on matters of public concern and criticize public officials,” said Abate. “This subpoena seemed to be a clear abuse of the legal system to try to silence somebody speaking out on matters of public concern. It was totally inappropriate, which is why we filed a motion strongly opposing it seeking to quash it.”
Abate says there’s both a state law protecting the disclosure of sources who speak anonymously through the press and a constitutional right to speak anonymously on matters of public concern.
“The original subpoena violated both of those laws, and we think it’s a great result that we’re not going to have to put the publisher before the grand jury to testify on the issue,” Abate said. “…It seems to me quite ridiculous to suggest that there was anything in the substance of the opinion columns that were published in the newspaper that approached criminal conduct. It may have been critical of local leadership, but that does not make it criminal.”
Singleton was also pleased with the grand jury’s decision.
“When I first received the subpoena concerning the identity of Conrad Doyle, I considered it ridiculous, and I could not believe our local officials were insecure to the point that one of them would interpret the content of an opinion piece about criminals stealing drugs as a personal threat,” Singleton said. “I have been further amazed that the Commonwealth Attorney, Rick Hardin, would introduce such frivolous accusations to the grand jury. I have wondered if this was just another attempt of the ‘good ol’ boy’ (and girl) trying to intimidate the Messenger into backing off our accountability of local elected officials. But, my faith in our legal system has been restored. I am relieved that the men and women of the grand jury could see through such a farce and kill such a ridiculous attempt of political power playing.”