Court Drops Wiretap Charge against Journalists

Article excerpt

On a motion from a new prosecutor, Luzerne County President Judge Patrick J. Toole Jr. March 26 dismissed felony wiretapping charges against the Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., its publisher, editor, managing editor, and top columnist.

The dismissal ended a bizarre criminal case that the Times-Leader has charged all along was brought by a politically motivated lame-duck prosecutor.

Last December, Luzerne County's then-District Attorney Jerome L. Cohen charged the newspaper and the four journalists with violating Pennsylvania's wiretap law by publishing the transcript of a taped interview columnist Steve Corbett had conducted with Dr. Glen Wolsieffer.

Wolsieffer was a dentist who was later convicted of murdering his wife in a locally sensational case that has striking parallels to the "Fatal Vision" conviction of U.S. Army Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.

According to the Times-Leader transcript, the interview was clearly understood by Wolsieffer to be on the record. The conversation was the basis for a later Corbett column.

After Wolsieffer's conviction, Corbett revealed that the conversation had been taped, something the columnist did not reveal during testimony at Wolsieffer's trial.

As attorneys for the dentist maneuvered to make the tape a basis for a new trial, the Times-Leader in Augustd published a transcript of the interview.

Four months later, District Attorney Cohen filed the wiretap charges against the paper, president and publisher Dale Duncan, vice president and editor Allison Walzer, managing editor Cliff Schechtman, and columnist Corbett. Each faced maximum penalties of seven years in prison (E&P, Dec. 21, 1991, P. 12).

Publisher Duncan charged at the time that Cohen was lodging the charges because the paper had been very critical of the handling of the murder case by the district attorney's office. In addition, the paper had endorsed a Democrat for the office.

That new district attorney, Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., took office Jan. …