New Castle News

Local News

August 6, 2007

Newspaper objects to police seizure of newsroom computer

The New Castle News announced today it will file a court protest against the unannounced seizure by authorities of a newsroom computer that police say was used to illegally record phone conversations with two local public officials about a proposed police training facility.

The News’ petition will ask that the city police department return the computer immediately, saying it is important to the daily production of the paper and could be subject to indiscriminate search of sensitive news files.

Sgt. Kevin Seelbaugh confiscated the computer the afternoon of July 25 after District Justice Melissa A. Amodie issued a search warrant to determine if News reporter Pat Litowitz had recorded conversations with Northwest Lawrence Regional Police Chief Jim Morris and Mahoning Township Supervisor Francis Exposito without informing them beforehand.

Morris asked Seelbaugh to seek the search warrant on the basis that a state privacy law requires both parties consent to a recorded phone conversation in Pennsylvania. Violation of the law is a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Morris learned from his wife, Debbie Wachter Morris, who also is a reporter at The News, that Litowitz recorded a conversation with the chief and also with Exposito.

The phone conversations at issue concerned a story Litowitz was pursuing about a proposed police training facility in Mahoning Township. There was no contention by Chief Morris or Exposito that Litowitz had represented himself as anything other than a reporter for The News.

On July 17, Litowitz initiated a call to Morris, who was unavailable, telling him the subject of his inquiry. Morris later returned the call to Litowitz’s cell phone. Litowitz also talked with Exposito about the story.

Eventually, the story was written by News reporter Nancy Lowry, who also had gathered information about the police training facility. Litowitz played the recorded calls with Chief Morris and Exposito for Lowry so she could use the information in her story.

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