Anita Alvarez, the District Attorney for Cook County Illinois, has served the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University with a controversial subpoena. The subpoena seeks the "grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students themselves."
Commentators have almost uniformly criticized the subpoena, and many journalism and legal experts view it as an attempt to harass and chill the work of the students and their professors. The Medill project has secured the release of 11 wrongfully convicted Illinois inmates during its 10-year history. Alvarez (to quote the late-Justice Brennan) is apparently afraid of "too much justice."
A judge will ultimately determine whether the Medill project must submit to Alvarez's heavy handed tactics. Meanwhile, innocent persons undoubtedly languish in Illinois prisons.
CBS News, however, reports that one wrongfully convicted Illinois man will soon get the opportunity to try and piece his life together again. 41-year-old Dean Cade was recently released from prison after serving 12 years for a rape he did not commit. DNA evidence proved his innocence. The work of the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo Law School (part of Yeshiva University) in New York City secured his release.
Alvarez's subpoena shows a contempt for justice. Although Alvarez is cynical about the work of students and professors who run innocence programs, their efforts serve a vital function in the administration of justice. Legal professionals should encourage, rather than impede, the work of innocence projects.