Tennessee Star editor in court to defend 1st Amendment rights in Covenant School shootings case

Law enforcement has resisted the Star's efforts through a lawsuit to release the shooter’s journal.

Published: June 16, 2024 10:58pm

(The Center Square) -

The editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Star has been ordered to appear Monday before the judge overseeing the Nashville Covenant School mass shooting case after the Star published a series of stories detailing writings from the shooter's journals.

Law enforcement has resisted the Star's efforts through a lawsuit to release the journal publicly, including those writings identified by Metro Nashville Police as a manifesto.

Tennessee Chancery Court Judge l'Ashea Myles ordered Michael Patrick Leahy, who also serves as CEO of Star News Digital Media, publisher of The Tennessee Star and other news sites across the U.S., to appear for a show cause hearing Monday to determine whether The Star violated any court orders related to publishing news stories on the shooter's writings.

Audrey Elizabeth Hale, a biological female who identified as a male, shot and killed three children and three school staff in March 2023, prior to being shot and killed by responding police officers.

"Yes, I intend to appear in court on Monday at 11 am, along with my attorneys, Nick Barry with America First Legal and Daniel Horwitz, a nationally recognized First Amendment attorney based here in Nashville," Leahy told The Center Square Sunday.

Leahy says he faces contempt charges and possible jail time for publishing a series of stories detailing Hale's writings after exclusively obtaining about 80 pages of the documents from a source. Leahy and The Tennessee Star have pursued public release of the documents to, at this point, no avail.

Among other details on the writings, The Star reported that Hale felt socially isolated and unable to live independently.

"In this densely written, undated entry spread over two pages, Hale wrote about mental health issues with her 'brain,' which she elsewhere connected to her purported autism diagnosis and decision to identify as a transgender man despite being a biological female," The Star reported.

Former acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jeff Clark wrote on X, after Leahy was ordered to appear in court, that the news outlet had a First Amendment right to publish the stories.

"This is what the free press is for," Clark wrote. "It's not designed to coddle the trans movement or keep secrets that could get people killed through ignorance. ... (What's) going on in America? It's like a slice of the state judiciary across multiple States has lost its collective mind."

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