Conservative media outlet faces contempt over publishing excerpts from Covenant killer’s journal

A Tennessee judge ordered that Star News CEO Michael Patrick Leahy has to explain why the Star's reporting “does not violate the Orders of this Court.” 

Published: June 13, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: June 14, 2024 4:09pm

A conservative media outlet is facing contempt from a Tennessee state court judge over its publication of leaked excerpts from the journal of Covenant School killer, Audrey Hale. 

Star News Digital Media, the owner of the Tennessee Star, published a series of articles containing several passages from the school shooter’s journal, which Nashville police had so far refused to turn over to the outlet. 

According to the Star's reporting, Audrey Hale wrote about her "torture" as a girl who identified as a boy and how she would "kill" to get puberty blockers. The Daily Mail, paraphrasing the Star, said "Hale wrote about anger toward her parents, how she hated her conservative Christian upbringing, and how she had suffered because hormone blockers were not available when she was as a child." 

The judge who is in charge of determining whether the journal should be released to the public, I’Ashea Myles, reportedly summoned the media outlet’s editor-in-chief Michael Patrick Leahy to appear in court to explain how the Star's reporting doesn't violate her court orders. The outlet could face contempt proceedings or sanctions, the Associated Press reported

Leahy's attorney Daniel Horwitz filed an emergency motion on Wednesday, asking that the judge set aside her June 10 court order because it doesn't specify what was violated.

The motion alleged that the court order violates Tennessee’s “shield law,” which “protects reporters from being compelled to reveal any information – or the source of any information – procured for publication and broadcast.” The statute protects journalists' sources and information, gathered for publication or broadcast, whether obtained confidentially or not, and whether published or not. 

On Thursday, the judge denied the motion and determined that it was "premature," according to an updated Tennessee Star story. Horwitz filed an emergency appeal  with the Court of Appeals for Middle Tennessee, requesting the court provide a stay to the show cause hearing.

Myles said that Leahy and his attorneys had to be in court next week to help her “ascertain the status and veracity of any alleged leak” of the documents.

The Tennessee Star reported that Leahy was ordered to appear in court following local television reporter Stacey Cameron calling the judge and asking if the Star or anyone else should be held "in contempt” due to reporting on the notes from Hale's journal. 

Leahy told Just the News on Thursday that Cameron made a false claim to the judge about the documents, which he says he obtained legally.

“She is compelling me to be present in court to explain why publication of certain documents does not constitute contempt of court," Leahy told Just the News. "But she doesn’t cite what we violated.”

Leahy is currently in a legal battle attempting to get Hale’s full journal from the Metro Nashville Police Department. The Star has written several articles about some of Hale's writings, which resulted in extensive backlash. 

"The Show Cause Order does not specify or otherwise identify ‘the Orders of this Court’ that it implies may have been violated," the emergency filing reads. “The Show Cause Order does make clear, however, that it is concerned with the acts – specifically, ‘the publication of certain purported documents and information’ – that transpired outside the presence of the Court.”

In April, the FBI turned over writings from Hale to the court, including a manifesto, which are being read privately by the judge to determine whether there is reason to continue hiding them from the public. Three nine-year-old students and three adults were killed in the shooting spree.

Star News sued the FBI in May, claiming the bureau had violated the First Amendment by rejecting multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for the Covenant School shooter’s manifesto.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger sided with the Tennessee Star in March in seeking the manifesto and other relevant written documents from Hale.

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