Pa. judges order newspapers to delete archived online content

PENNSYLVANIA — In an attempt to expunge information about criminalcharges relating to five local defendants, two Centre County judges signedorders commanding two newspapers to delete archived stories about thedefendants.

Pennsylvania State University’s student-run newspaper, The DailyCollegian, and The Centre Daily Times received orders from JudgeBradley P. Lunsford and Judge Thomas King Kistler to remove the informationrelating to the defendants’ charges from their online archives. However,today Lunsford signed an order vacating the provision involving the CDT andThe Daily Collegian. Kistler’s order still remains in place.

Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Collegian, Elizabeth Murphy, said anewspaper is fulfilling its responsibility when it reports the facts as theyhappen. In these cases, the charges were brought lawfully and the newspaperreported them correctly, she said.

“In my opinion, The Daily Collegian is a record of history asit happens,” Murphy said. “It is not a record of the court,it’s not a government entity. We’re here to report the news thathappens day in and day out, and that’s my bottom line.”

The five defendants either pled guilty to criminal charges ranging fromaggravated indecent assault to possession of marijuana, or completed pretrialdiversion programs that resulted in no finding of guilt.Bob Heisse,executive editor of the CDT, said it is highly unusual for an expungement orderto be directed to two publications and that the only time his publicationremoves information from its website is if a story is factually incorrect.

“This is a court order that basically wants the entire history of thecrime, since they completed their time, to disappear from the world,” hesaid. “And that’s not the way you do things. Even if we did takethis down from our website and The Daily Collegian took it down,it’s still out there and going to be found. The clients are not going toaccomplish their goal here.”

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, saidthat expungement only keeps the government from making information about a crimeknown — it does not change the facts and it does not require a newspaper tochange its history.

“Expungement, at its core, is legal fiction,” Goldstein said.

“It is a legal way of pretending something didn’t happen thathappened. It doesn’t mean you didn’t do it.”

The articles remain in the archives of both newspapers as they awaitKistler’s decision. State College defense attorney Joe Amendolarepresented the five defendants on the orders. Amendola did not return calls bypress time.

“It’s troubling that this attorney and his clients can’tthink about personal responsibility and accountability,” Heisse said.”There are also a lot of people who don’t seem to value the freedomof the First Amendment. So you put those two together, and you can see how thesekinds of requests can come in.”