Last week, local news organizations urged a Pennsylvania court to unseal emergency filings related to search warrants in a case involving Penn State University. Hours later, the court ordered the filings and the search warrants themselves to be made public, revealing allegations of sexual extortion targeting members of the school’s football team.
The Centre Daily Times, Spotlight PA and WJAC-TV, represented by Reporters Committee attorneys, moved to intervene in the case on July 14 to challenge a judge’s order allowing the state’s largest university to shield the entire docket from the public. The news outlets explained that the public has a presumptive right to access judicial records under the First Amendment, the common law and the Pennsylvania Constitution, and that any privacy interests in concealing the records should be addressed through narrow redactions.
“The presumption of public access is essential to news reporting on court cases, which promotes accountability in the judicial system and public understanding of how courts exercise their power,” said Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, who represents the news outlets.
The same day the news organizations moved to intervene, the Centre County Court of Common Pleas ordered the docket and all filings unsealed. It also ordered that the search warrants at issue be made public with limited redactions.
The unsealed search warrants revealed that a woman allegedly obtained sexually explicit photos and videos of two Penn State University football players and then threatened to make them public unless the players continued to send more photos and recordings. To learn more about the extortion allegations, read coverage of the case in the Centre Daily Times and WJAC-TV.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.
*Flickr photo by drocpsu