New Castle News

Local News

August 13, 2007

DA, News resolve seized computer case

A case involving the alleged recording of telephone interviews by a New Castle News reporter has been resolved.

Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo and The News reached an agreement yesterday, and Senior Judge Michael J. Wherry issued an order effectuating the resolution.

A day earlier, Wherry had issued an order requiring the return of a News computer seized July 25 by New Castle Police Sgt. Kevin Seelbaugh, who was acting on a search warrant issued by District Judge Melissa A. Amodie.

The warrant was issued in response to a complaint by Northwest Lawrence Regional Police Chief James B. Morris. Morris alleged that News reporter Pat Litowitz had recorded telephone interviews with him and Mahoning Township Supervisor Francis "Poncho" Exposito without their consent and, in doing so, had violated Pennsylvania's privacy law.

Yesterday's order required The News to remove from the computer and other recording devices any audio recordings obtained without the consent of the party whose communication was being recorded. The computer and audio recording devices then were to be returned to The News.

The order states that The News shall implement a policy requiring its reporters to obtain the consent of a party prior to recording any conversation involving the party. However, "This provision shall not apply to any recordings of public proceedings where consent is implied or other recording permitted by law."

In exchange for those provisions, the commonwealth has agreed not to prosecute Litowitz for any alleged violations of a section of the state Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act.

The order concludes by acknowledging that The News "specifically denies" that the conduct in which Litowitz allegedly engaged is a violation of the law.

News publisher Max Thomson said of the resolution: "I appreciate the effort by District Attorney Bongivengo and the New Castle police department to bring this matter to a wise and prudent conclusion.

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