Win or Lose in Court, You Cannot Erase the News

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Two judges in Centre county Pennsylvania have rescinded orders requiring local newspapers to destroy their archives of news reports about criminal cases the judges’ recently approved for expungement.  It is unclear how this stipulation worked its way into the courts’ orders but the defense attorney for the cases argued ““What’s the sense in having your record expunged if anyone can Google you and it comes up?”  While I understand the point he is trying to make, I don’t support trampling all over the First Amendment. 

The broken record continues to play –  this is yet another reason why employers should not rely on social media sites and Internet search engines as tools to conduct background checks on potential hires.  The information found could include facts about an applicant that cannot be taken into consideration when making the hiring decision.  And once you know something, it may prove difficult to unknow it, so to speak.

Win or Lose in Court, You Cannot Erase the News

By Gene Policinski, eNews Park Forest – July 13, 2010

Sometimes the meaning of the 45 words of the First Amendment seems to escape even those trained in the law.

In Pennsylvania last week, two judges in Centre County — home to Penn State University — signed off on what generally are standard instructions to police and other agencies to expunge certain official records of five people involved in criminal investigations.

But the orders, thanks to the defense attorney for the five, also required that two area newspapers erase archived news reports about the defendants, who faced charges ranging from assault to drug possession.

“Imagine getting such an order, right before the July 4th holiday,” said Bob Heisse, executive editor of the Centre Daily Times, one of the newspapers involved.

Both judges have now voided the orders, but news reports now say as many as 41 orders presented to the court by defense attorney Joe Amendola included similar demands of news organizations.

“What’s the sense in having your record expunged if anyone can Google you and it comes up?” Amendola told the Centre Daily Times. The lawyer, in later news reports, said the newspapers were added to the orders without his knowledge, by a staffer in his office.

Regardless of how the newspapers came to be included in the various court orders, what makes “sense” is to report — and retain those reports — on arrests and court recordings, whether it’s the era of Google or in earlier times when the nation’s Founders took care to provide for an independent news media.

Yes, none of us likely would look forward to having our name or face in a newspaper, on a website or on TV if we were to be arrested and face trial. And there surely is a certain amount of pain and shame in having those facts come up in an online search later in life.

But, as Heisse said, “Facts are facts, and we don’t go back and alter the historical record to suit someone.” Elizabeth Murphy, editor in chief of the second newspaper involved, the Daily Collegian, said it “is a record of history as it happens from day-to-day. … We’re here to report the facts as they are and that’s what we did.”

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