Judge Upholds Charges against Pa. Newspaper

Article excerpt

Judge upholds charges against Pa. newspeople

Repeatedly sweeping aside objections from the newspaper's lawyer during a preliminary hearing, a Pennsylvania district justice upheld the criminal wiretapping charges against the publisher, editor, managing editor and top columnist of the Times Leader of Wilkes Barre, Pa.

After a daylong hearing Dec. 23, District Justice Martin Kane ruled there was sufficient evidence to charge the journalists with third-degree felonies for publishing and conspiring to publish the transcript of a telephone interview of a murder suspect that was tape-recorded by columnist Steve Corbett.

The criminal charges against the journalists -- apparently unprecedented in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the United States -- are politically motivated, the Times Leader has charged (E&P, Dec. 21, 1991, P. 12).

If the charges are unprecedented, however, the district justice's decision to bound the charges over to Luzerne County Court is not surprising.

"We expected Kane would bind the case over to court. District justices always bind cases over," publisher Dale A. Duncan said after the session.

Under criminal procedure in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a district judge acts as a king of one-man grand jury, determining if there may be sufficient prima facie evidence to proceed with a case.

Times Leader attorney Richard Sprague said he intended to file a motion in county court urging dismissal of the charges, which carry maximum penalties of seven years in prison and $15,000 fines.

Charged in the case are publisher Duncan; columnist Corbett; vice president and editor Allison Walzer; and managing editor Cliff Schechtman.

The charges stem from a 1989 telephone interview Corbett taped with Glen Wolsieffer, a dentist who was later convicted of the 1986 murder of his wife. Wolsieffer had talked often before with Corbett, who that day said he was calling to get some comments for a column he planned to write. …