SCRANTON, Pa. — A state appeals court has ruled that a reporter may protect the identity of a source used in a story about a grand jury investigation into alleged prison brutality.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned an order by a Lackawanna County judge that reporter Jennifer Henn and her former employer, The Times-Tribune of Scranton, reveal the source's identity.
Former Lackawanna County commissioners Joseph Corcoran and Randy A. Castellani sued The Times-Tribune and Henn over a January 2004 story that said they were "considerably less than cooperative" in their appearances before the grand jury in the brutality case.
The plaintiffs demanded to know the source of Henn's information. Judge Robert A. Mazzoni sided with them in June 2005, ruling that the importance of grand jury secrecy outweighed the protections of the Pennsylvania Shield Law, which gives reporters the right to guard the identities of their sources.
In its Jan. 3 ruling, a three-judge Superior Court panel said Mazzoni had carved an improper exception to the shield law.
"The fact that a crime may have occurred by virtue of the alleged disclosure of certain grand jury testimony does not necessitate or empower this court to craft a new exception to the Shield Law," the panel wrote in Castellani v. The Scranton Times.
Judge Debra McCloskey Todd wrote a concurring opinion that said she "would not foreclose the possibility" that a reporter could be ordered to give up a source as part of a criminal investigation into a grand jury leak.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and state law bars prosecutors, court officials or jurors from discussing a grand jury investigation. Witnesses are not barred from discussing their testimony outside the courtroom.