Commentary

In First Amendment Battle, One Judge Keeps Newspaper Archives Safe -- Another Case Still In Play

It's understandable that individuals aren't pleased when they conduct vanity searches on their names only to discover a newspaper article about an old arrest as the top Google result. It must seem particularly aggravating when the charges were later dropped or reduced.

But as much as the search results might bother people, there's at least one thing certain to make the situation worse: asking a judge to order the newspaper to remove its archives. Such a questionable request all but assures that the arrestee's name will forever be linked with not only the original charges, but also with a futile attempt to rewrite history.

Nonetheless, that's exactly what an attorney for five people in Pennsylvania did, according to the Centre Daily Times. Lawyer Joe Amendola asked two judges to order newspapers -- the Centre Daily Times and the college paper The Daily Collegian -- to delete old articles about arrests of five of his clients after the charges against them were dismissed or reduced as a result of plea bargains.

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Even more remarkably, the judges did so -- despite the obvious First Amendment problems posed by a court order telling a newspaper to remove truthful articles that reported on public arrest records.

As it turns out, however, at least one judge didn't realize what he was signing. Judge Bradley Lunsford today vacated his orders directing the newspapers to erase stories regarding three of the arrestees. There's been no word yet from the other judge, Thomas King Kistler -- though, hopefully, he too will realize the problems with his orders.

Still, it's troubling to think that this type of ruling would ever be issued in the first place. Also troubling: that these two newspapers will now have to pay legal fees to vacate orders that should never have been issued.

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