PHILADELPHIA – In a highly unusual move, two newspapers in central Pennsylvania were ordered to delete archived news stories about five defendants in criminal cases after a lawyer sought to have the records expunged.
One Centre County judge rescinded the orders on Tuesday in three of the cases, after the Centre Daily Times in State College and the Pennsylvania State University student-run Daily Collegian objected. But two other orders, signed by another county judge, remained in effect.
The orders were obtained by State College lawyer Joe Amendola, who raised an interesting First Amendment question in the age of Google: What should happen to news reports about arrests and court cases when the official records are later expunged?
“What’s the sense in having your record expunged if anyone can Google you and it comes up?” Amendola told the Times after getting court orders directing the newspaper and the Collegian to delete archived stories about five of his clients in criminal cases.
Such orders could have wide ramifications for the news media, which have broad rights under the First Amendment to report about court cases.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., said the effort to eliminate material from news archives showed a “remarkable lack of knowledge about the Constitution.”
All an expungement does, she said, is facilitate a clean background check and allow a defendant applying for a job to leave out information about an arrest.
“You don’t get to change history,” she said.
Bob Heisse, executive editor of the Times, said that while Centre County Court Judge Bradley P. Lunsford had vacated the orders requiring the deletion of any articles about three of Amendola’s clients, two other orders, signed by Judge Thomas Kistler, were still in place.