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Judge scolds journalists for accessing restricted Web site

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
A Pennsylvania judge accused several journalists of transgressing from their professional ethics for tapping into a restricted county Web site…

A Pennsylvania judge accused several journalists of transgressing from their professional ethics for tapping into a restricted county Web site after a local coroner gave them the password, according The Associated Press.  

Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker on Tuesday sentenced the now-retired coroner, Dr. Gary Kirchner, 74, to one year of probation plus a $500 fine for two accounts of obstruction of administration of law, The AP said.   

Five Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reporters had previously testified to a grand jury, in exchange for immunity,  that Kirchner gave them the password to the site. According to The AP report, Kirchner’s user name and password were used at least 48 times by Intelligencer Journal computers; in 2005, the newspaper reported on a woman’s death and cited the site, which kept the county’s official 911 records, as its source.

Reinaker denounced the journalist’s actions, saying what they did was "wholly inappropriate" and "a total breach of their ethical responsibility."  

Intelligencer Journal editor Ray Shaw argued in a written statement released after the hearing that Kirchner led the reporters to believe they were allowed to use the site. He also said the reporters did not ask for immunity: "As lawful citizens, those subpoenaed had no choice but to comply."

"Kirchner communicated to several reporters information contained on the web site and he frequently directed reporters to the (site) in response their questions," Shaw said, calling Kirchner "a good doctor who we believe tried to modernize the coroner’s office and operate it in a transparent manner."