Judge Allows Return of Pa. Newspaper's Seized Computer

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By: A judge ordered authorities to return a newspaper's computer, but only after its hard drive was copied so authorities could determine whether a reporter broke the law by recording sources without their permission.

Northwest Lawrence Regional Police got a search warrant and seized the computer from the New Castle News on July 25. A reporter, who is married to the police chief, told her husband that an interview he had given to another reporter had been recorded without the chief's knowledge.

The newspaper's attorney, James Manolis, subsequently got a judge to issue a court order preventing police from collecting information from the computer or other recording devices.

The agreement to return reporter Pat Litowitz's computer was struck on Wednesday by Manolis, newspaper publisher Max Thomson and Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo.

Pennsylvania law requires both parties to consent before a phone conversation can be recorded and failure to do so is a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. But Manolis believes case law makes exceptions for journalists.

"We're arguing that what Litowitz allegedly did is no crime," Manolis said. "We preserved that argument for a later date." Should the hard drive be searched, Manolis will argue that the search be limited.

Litowitz has acknowledged recording the chief and another public official for the sake of accuracy.

Bongivengo said authorities will review the case law before deciding whether to search the hard drive as part of their continuing investigation.

If authorities determine that the computer's hard drive must be searched as part of that investigation, Bongivengo said he wants to make sure "that we get what we're looking for and the News is satisfied."

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