Judge Under Fire for Warrant Authorizing Raid on Kansas Newspaper Office

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Judge Laura Viar, the authority responsible for approving a search warrant that resulted in a raid on a newspaper office in Marion, Kansas, is now facing a complaint regarding her decision. The complaint has been submitted to a judicial body, demanding that she provide a response.

The complaint was filed by Kansas resident Keri Strahler, roughly a week following the unexpected police invasion of the Marion County Record’s premises. The residences of the newspaper’s publisher and a county council woman were also searched. Among seized items were reporters’ mobile phones and computers, which sparked outrage among news outlets and advocates for press freedom.

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Strahler’s filed complaint has requested the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct to reevaluate Viar’s mental fitness, accusing her of bypassing federal and state law when granting the search warrant for the newspaper office. The commission has subsequently requested a response from Viar, with plans to address the issue on November 3.

The search warrants executed were initially part of an investigation into allegations of identity theft and potential unlawful actions related to computers, as indicated by unsealed search warrant affidavits. Police Chief Gideon Cody of Marion hypothesized in his affidavits that the intrusive raids were contingent on a suspicion that reporter Phyllis Zorn unlawfully procured the driving records of local restaurateur Kari Newell, prior to the newspaper publishing a story about her.

However, the leading county prosecutor retracted the search warrants only days after the invasions citing a lack of sufficient evidence, and vowed to return all confiscated belongings.

Eric Meyer, the publisher of the Record, proclaimed that the newspaper has been “vindicated” by this reversal, following widescale criticism suggesting that the raid was a breach of the newspaper’s First Amendment rights.

Conversely, the city’s insurance provider, EMC Insurance, has commissioned a private law firm to investigate the incident. Marion’s city attorney Brian Bina refrained from commenting on whether the outcome of the investigation will be disclosed to the public.

Debbie Gruver, a reporter from the Marion County Record, has launched a federal lawsuit against Police Chief Cody, accusing him of infringing her constitutional rights by approving an “unreasonable and unlawful” search warrant and appropriating her personal belongings.

In her lawsuit, Gruver claims Chief Cody targeted her, aware she had been researching allegations of misconduct against him during his tenure with the Kansas City Police Department. Yet, the newspaper has yet to publish these accusations.

Further to this, Gruver’s lawsuit accuses Chief Cody of retaliating against her for using her First Amendment rights of free speech and press freedom. Gruver also alleges that Cody seized her personal mobile phone, a move she argues was beyond the scope of the warrant, therefore breaching her Fourth Amendment rights.

Following the public outrage, the police department deferred further comment on the search, directing all questions towards the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is currently conducting its own separate investigation.